The reason I write today is because of the layers of public controversy piled on top a situation that is already highly emotional charged (for the record, heightened emotions are perfectly appropriate right now). About a month ago, a vocal pastor named J. D. Hall, criticized photos and comments Braxton had posted to his Twitter feed. Let me try and give a brief summary and background.
J. D. Hall has had an ongoing, if pretty one-sided, public feud with Ergun Caner. Caner rarely-to-never responds to Hall and his cohorts, but Hall and others regularly blog, tweet, and podcast about Caner’s past. Out of sensitivity to Caner and his family during this time, getting into the details about what the criticisms are about is neither necessary nor appropriate. They’re well documented online for anyone who wants to find out. And I’ll say that I have been critical of Caner in the past as well, though I’d like to think my criticism has been more measured, reasonable, occasional, and stayed away from making things personal.
So Hall has been a frequent and strong critic of Caner, but Caner refuses to respond, and I think that makes Hall and his followers more annoyed and angry. Hall then pushes harder and the attacks become more and more petty and personal as time goes on. I don't think Ergun Caner could brush his teeth in a way that J. D. Hall wouldn't criticize. There’s a lot more to the backstory, but I just don’t have time to cover it and that’s not my purpose today. I hope that will suffice as context for Hall’s comments about and to Braxton Caner on Twitter.
The Twitter Exchange
July 2 was the day Hall criticized Braxton’s social media activity. Hall tagged Braxton’s Twitter account in his comments, ensuring that Braxton himself, not just Ergun, would be notified and see the tweets. Braxton responded and there was an exchange of four or five responses by each. Hall’s actions and comments in this exchange are almost breathtakingly shocking, concluding with him telling Braxton to “email me” if Braxton “ever want[s] to speak or seek truth about your dad.”
His comments were quickly condemned by a number of people online. Here's one example. In fact, that tweet is what alerted me to the exchange. Even though, as I’ve said before, I’ve been a critic of Caner in the past, I recognized Hall’s actions were way out of line. I’ve also previously and publicly criticized Hall (here and here for examples). I believe that public statements and actions are rightfully publicly condemned so I also criticized Hall for his actions. Then I criticized even further when it became clear that he was responding by doubling down on his actions, despite a number of people publicly and some privately telling him he needed to apologize and repent.
After a couple days, Hall did finally admit, in a revision to a blog post about the situation, that it was poor judgment to include Braxton in his crusade against Ergun. (Note: that original post and the apology revision have since been taken down at Hall’s blog. I’m assuming his reasoning for taking it down was an attempt to be sensitive to the Caner family since the original part of the post contained material critical of Braxton.) Considering Hall’s earlier attempts to justify his actions and the laughable efforts at some of his followers to argue there was nothing wrong with J. D.’s actions, his apology was a welcome step, though nothing could make up for the complete lack of discernment Hall showed in the first place.
I want to make clear that I am not excusing or minimizing the fact that J. D. Hall's actions were immature and reprehensible. In fact, I was one of those who called him out publicly at the time of the event. I was vocal enough in my criticism that Hall blocked me on Twitter.
Tragedy and Blame
I’ll admit that when I heard about Braxton’s death, the second thought, after sympathy for his family, was the Twitter exchange that occurred a little less than a month earlier. Could that have been a cause or contributing factor in this horrible situation? And if so, how much might it have affected the young man? Now, to be fair, I didn’t know anything about Braxton—at all—except for this online exchange a month before. Where else could my mind have gone? And I think a lot of people in my situation (online observer) likely had those same kinds of questions for the same reason.
In the days since the news spread, I’ve seen people condemn Hall as if he is the sole and lone cause of the young man’s tragic decision. I've seen long blog posts documenting every word written and spoken by Hall about the situation, seeming to tie his actions in a causal sense to Braxton's death.
Then, on the other side, I’ve also seen defenders of Hall ask things like, “are you saying J. D. is to blame?” insinuating that there’s no blame whatsoever to be assigned to Hall—as if to assert that his actions were a contributing factor defies logic and is nothing more than an emotional reaction.
Neither reaction is right nor helpful to anyone. One thing we know is that we don’t know—especially those of us viewing this situation from a distance. It seems virtually impossible that this one event, 27 days before his death, could have single-handedly caused something so tragic. On the other hand, I don't believe it had no effect on Braxton. For a young man, one who could have been struggling in other areas of life, to be the victim of what he considered an attack on himself and his family very well could have weighed more heavily on him than it would have on many of us. It may have weighed heavily on him, or he may have brushed it off quickly and thought no more of it days or weeks later. Once again, those of us observing from a distance just don't know.
Maybe Braxton’s family and closest friends have some insight into what was going on in his life and mind. Maybe they have reason to believe Hall’s actions had a great impact or relatively no impact on him. If that’s something they ever want to talk about publicly, I’m willing to listen carefully and learn. From what I know of those who have dealt with suicide closely, often those closest to the deceased can only speculate—so it may be that no one ever knows how much, if any, blame deserves to be laid at the feet of J. D. Hall.
It’s completely reasonable to posit Hall’s comments could have been one more cloud on an already dreary day for this young man. In this scenario, Hall’s actions would be properly considered a contributing factor, though I think it would be nearly impossible to determine how great of a factor. It's also completely reasonable to imagine that Braxton laughed off Hall's actions as "some weird guy from Montana who stalks my dad tried to bother me on Twitter." Braxton did poke back at Hall as being "creepy" and strangely obsessed. The fact is that we don't know. We don't know if Hall's actions were a considerable factor, a minor factor, or no factor at all.
The fact that we don’t know should make all of us—Hall’s critics, his defenders, and the rest of us—very cautious about the way we speak, either accusing or defending. The one thing we do know is that Braxton’s death is a terrible tragedy and we ought to continue praying for all those personally affected by his death. As for the rest of it, let us be slow to speak and ready to listen.
Note on comments: Due to the nature of this topic, I've temporarily changed the comments policy site-wide to require moderator approval before any comment appears. I welcome productive conversation, but am afraid of the direction comments could go on this subject. The line between what's allowed and what's not will be completely subjective and up to my judgment. Personal attacks directed toward anyone will be off limits. Feel free to contact me on Twitter as well. I may selectively reply to concerns there.
Summary of John’s Gospel
Yesterday I finished preaching through the Gospel of John at New Song Fellowship. We spent seven and a half months on the gospel and I wanted to wrap up with a summary of what we had seen in John's gospel over that time. Here's the summary I wrote and read as a part of yesterday's message.
by Brent Hobbs
In chapter 1, Jesus is the Word, who was with God and was God, the light of the world, who darkness could not overcome. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
In chapter 2, Jesus changes water into wine — a sign that his kingdom is not about dead ceremonial washings, but a living, joyful celebration of God’s kingdom. Then he clears the temple courts and claims to be, himself, the greater temple – God’s very presence on earth.
In chapter 3, Jesus talks with Nicodemus, telling him he must be born again to see God’s kingdom, and we learn that God loved the world by sending his only Son, so that all those believing in him would not perish, but have eternal life.
In chapter 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well and proves he’s the promised Messiah. The woman and many Samaritans in her village believe because of the words Jesus speaks to them.
In chapter 5, Jesus shows he has the power to heal and possesses the very authority of the Father.
In chapter 6, Jesus feeds the 5,000 and walks across the lake, but many desert him when he claims that he himself is the bread of life, greater than the manna God gave through Moses.
In chapter 7, Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles and uses the water and lantern ceremonies as object lessons. He teaches that he, himself, is the true fountain of living water and the light of the world.
In chapter 8, Jesus lets us know that all of us who sin are slaves to sin, but that there’s hope for us and true freedom can be found— because if the Son sets us free, we are free indeed.
In chapter 9, Jesus heals a man who had been blind his whole life, and offers to give sight to the physically seeing but spiritually blind Pharisees.
In chapter 10, Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He’s come so that they might have life, and have it in full abundance.
In chapter 11, Jesus waits for his friend to die, then arrives at his funeral to call him out of his grave. The Pharisees and chief priests decide that since Lazarus lives, Jesus must die.
In chapter 12, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on a donkey, to a king’s welcome. But he knows that the path to his throne leads also to a brutal cross.
In chapter 13, Jesus takes his disciples to the upper room. He washes their feet and serves them as if he were their slave, to give an example that we all should follow.
In chapter 14, after predicting Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and his own death, Jesus tell his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” because he is the way to the Father, the truth, and the life – and because he is sending the Holy Spirit to be their advocate.
In chapter 15, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We must remain in him.
In chapter 16, Jesus tells the disciple there will be weeping for a night, but afterward their weeping would turn to joy.
In chapter 17, just before his arrest & trial, Jesus prays for his disciples and for us: that we would live lives of unity and love.
When chapter 18 arrives, Jesus turns himself over to the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers, because he came to earth to be lifted up and reveal the Father to the world.
In chapter 19, Pilate condemns an innocent man to die. Jesus is beaten, whipped, and nailed to a cross. The King of the Jews humiliated and tortured, fulfilling God’s perfectly designed plan, down to the lots cast for his clothing. Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit with the cry, “It is finished!”
Jesus’ lifeless body is laid in a tomb and it seems like darkness reigns.
But the sun dawns on Sunday morning, and chapter 20 tells us about an empty tomb, a savior who comforts us by name, and Jesus appearing to his disciples. The light of the world lives! And Thomas proclaims, “My Lord, and My God!”
In chapter 21, the story is nearly over, but Jesus appears again. He continues to reveal his character and grace as he cooks breakfast for his disciples and forgives the one who denied him.
When the Word was made flesh, light invaded the darkness, and the darkness could not hold back God’s mission – what he meant to accomplish in Christ. And now what’s left is for you to believe this good news: Jesus reigns.
The competent Christian was sufficient to interpret the Bible, and the Bible is sufficiently clear in content to yield its meaning to the believer. Further, the Bible was a world of fits own and so Scripture interprets Scripture. At point where the Bible was obscure, the Catholic referred to the unwritten tradition of the Church. But Luther shut the interpreter up within the Bible and made the obscure passage yield to a clear passage. Much of Catholic exegesis was nothing more than studies in patristics. This Luther rejected:
A corollary at this point is: the analogy of faith. The scholastics interpreted by glosses and catena of citations from the Fathers. This was arbitrary and disconnected. Luther insisted on the organic, theological unity of the Bible. All of the relevant material on a given subject was to be collected together so that the pattern of divine revelation concerning that subject would be apparent.
I ask for Scriptures and Eck offers me the Fathers. I ask for the sun and he gives me his lanterns. I ask: “Where is your Scripture proof?” and he adduces Ambrose and Cyril... With all due respect to the Fathers I prefer the authority of Scripture.
This document includes the study summary, spiritual gifts chart, and study questions for the three major spiritual gift passages, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12-14. I've also included the spiritual gifts inventory test and the Juan Sanchez articles, both listed below.
Spiritual Gifts Translation Comparison
Compares the NIV, ESV, and NASB translations of the various spiritual gifts. There's a surprising amount of continuity among all three translations, but there are some minor differences. This two-page color-coded worksheet makes the differences easy to spot.
The Resurgence on Spiritual Gifts
This is an excellent study by The Resurgence, and available at their website. The download is reformatted to fit each gift on a separate page. It includes definitions, Bible passages, and questions that help identify if you have that particular gift. Original Source Materials
How Do I Find My Spiritual Gifts? Juan Sanchez article at The Gospel Coalition
This is a one-page article I really appreciate. It discusses the drawbacks of spiritual gift inventories and provides a more biblical way of thinking about and discovering how the Holy Spirit would use us on our churches. I formatted this article to fit on one page. PDF (Note: This is also included in the "Handout Materials" download listed above.)
Spiritual Gifts Inventory Test - Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
I know I just mentioned an article that discussed the drawbacks of spiritual gift inventories. That said, I think they can be useful if used with the proper disclaimers. So you can take this one online or I made a four-page printout version for in-class usage. PDF (Note: This is also included in the "Handout Materials" download listed above.)
During the panel discussion on rap I should have engaged such a controversial subject as this with greater discernment, explicit scriptural grounding, clarity, definition of terms (like “rap” ) and precision that comes from a full grasp of the subject. These were lacking in the rap discussion. The very question itself lacked clarity and nuance which opened the door to the misrepresentations common to the broad brush. In framing the question, I failed to distinguish between the use of music in worship compared to simply listening to music. We failed to distinguish between the various expressions of the artists. I failed to correct a panelist who made an unsavory comment. Panel discussions, off the cuff are useful for certain things, but to use a surprise question to a panel to engage a broader audience on such a complex controversial topic as musical genres they may not have been knowledgeable of was unwise. I did not engage this topic with the required care. There were moments where it lacked the brotherly tone that is essential for our critiques within the body of Christ. In at least these senses, it was unworthy of our Lord. Please forgive me.I also understand that a further failure was that I did not provide adequate context for the Q&A Session which existed in the midst of over 40 messages on the subject of the worship of God. Below is my opening message at the conference which explains that context.
Speaker #2, Scot Aniol, posted an "explanation" of his comments. (HT: Denny Burk) He says he is not responsible for the offensive comments of the other panelists and offers no apology. He expands on the points he made during the panel, which do shed light on his views but fail to make them any more convincing. Scot plans an extended dialogue with rapper Shai Linne (one of my favorite Christian hip hop artists, see especially his latest album, Lyrical Theology, Pt. 1) at his blog, Religious Affections.
Speaker #3, Geoff Botkin, the panelist with the most troubling comments, issued a statement via the NCFIC blog. His apology, which I feel was insufficient and troubling, was the subject of one of my post on Sunday night, "NCFIC Panelist Gives 'I'm Sorry Your Were Offended' Apology." (***Update, please see below, Botkin has issued another statement, longer and better than the first.***)
Those are the only responses I'm aware of as I write. I will update this post as others become available. I have a hard time thinking the other panelists will be able to avoid commenting on the issue. Hopefully we'll see more in the vein of Scott Brown and nothing else like Geoff Botkin, who I hope will rethink his statements and try again.
Update (12/4 10:05pm)
Speaker #4, Joel Beeke allowed Tim Challies to post his apology. I am impressed with Beeke's apology - it hits all the right notes. The text is below.
Update (12/5 2:15pm)
Recently I was asked to participate in a panel discussion at a Reformed Worship conference. In that discussion the panelists were asked to address the subject of Christian rap music (which I took to mean rap music primarily in the context of a local church worship service). To my regret, I spoke unadvisedly on an area of music that I know little about. It would have been far wiser for me to say nothing than to speak unwisely. Please forgive me. I also wish to publicly disassociate myself from comments that judged the musicians’ character and motives. —Joel Beeke
Speaker #3, Geoff Botkin has issued a longer statement and full apology. This time his statement does a much better job of demonstrating an attitude of repentance.
The response has been almost universally negative toward the panel’s comments and some of the panelists’ spirit. For a roundup of articles and responses to the panel, see Joshua Breland’s roundup here. Until last night, I hadn’t seen any response from any of the panelists or NCFIC. That's when I saw on Twitter that an apology had been posted. It is available here and has also been added to the top of the original post.
Not only were the words harsh (and a load of nonsense in my opinion), but Botkin was especially vehement in his condemnation of Christian rappers. You can listen to his answer (beginning at 5:15 in the video) and sense utter disgust with the genre of Christian rap and rappers who participate. I made the video and a transcript of the entire panel discussion available in an earlier post, please feel free to review Botkin's original statement.
Owen Strachan rightly called on "NCFIC to repudiate the claim that reformed rappers are ‘disobedient cowards.’”
Here is the first paragraph of the post at the NCFIC blog entitled “An Apology”. I believe this paragraph was written by the blog author, Botkin's own words follow later. After the text are some of my own comments responding to the apology. I’ve highlighted some important sections so that I can refer back to them in the comments section.
A few days ago I [Scott Brown, NCFIC Blogger] released a video clip from a panel discussion at our conference on The Worship of God. One of the panelists, Geoff Botkin, referred to the people driving Christian rap as “disobedient cowards.” I interpreted his statement to mean that, in every culture, Christians are often cowards in the face of various elements of their cultures that are infected with worldliness. Geoff has explained to me that he did not intend to impugn the work of sincere men, and that he would like to apologize for any confusion caused by his statement. Here is his apology:My Comments: Writing demands clarity and honesty. One or both are lacking from this opening paragraph. First of all, Botkin did not say that “the people driving Christian rap” were disobedient cowards. His statement was clearly directed at the rappers themselves. The original question from the moderator was if the panelists had “any thoughts on reformed rap artists”. The people “driving Christian rap” could refer to producers, music executives, fans, rappers themselves, probably any number of others. In fact, in the sentence before hand, Botkin talked about the “people who think they’re serving God. And they’re not.”
So we are off to a bad start by obscuring the nature of Botkin’s comments. They were directed purposefully at Christian rappers, not at the amorphous “people driving Christian rap.”
The second part of this opening paragraph that ought to cause concern is the statement that Botkin “did not intend to impugn the work of sincere men.” He absolutely did mean to impugn the work of Christian rappers. He said they are serving their own flesh. He said they think they are serving God and they’re not! The statement almost sounds like it’s set up to make the argument that Botkin was not impugning the work of the “sincere Christian rappers”, only the insincere ones. But that kind of distinction won’t work now. We have the text of the comments. It is clear that Botkin is making no distinction between Christian rappers. He is arguing that anyone who uses the “so-called art form” of Christian hip hop is a disobedient coward.
The third phrase that ought to cause concern is the “apology for any confusion.” There is no confusion. That’s precisely why we’re here. Botkin made a crystal clear statement that was egregiously wrong, both in content and spirit. We might wish Botkin has been unclear and confusing. Maybe then we could give him the benefit of the doubt. There’s no confusion as to what he said or what he meant. And if anyone is confused about either, please go back and listen to his tone and derisiveness in the video.
Here is the statement from Botkin himself:
My Comments: How can Botkin possibly say offense was unintended? I maintain that anyone who goes back to listen to his comments will agree that his words were intended to be offensive. I believe he considered them prophetic and used every kind of device he could muster to make them sharp and attention-grabbing - he didn’t care who was offended! How do you call another Christian a “disobedient coward” and later say that the offense was unintended?!
“I need to apologize for the unintended offense and confusion of my comments on disobedient cowardice. I certainly do not believe that all of today’s Christian rappers are cowardly. My most sincere apologies go to anyone out there who was hurt by my strong language. While I do hold concerns about the use and misuse of rap, my words were not directed at any particular artist. My greater concern is for the broad cultural conformity and compromise that is not limited to reformed rap.” -Geoff Botkin
Did you also notice how his comments are now characterized? “My comments on disobedient cowardice.” The problem here is that Botkin didn’t make statements on the subject of disobedient cowardice. He made comments on Christian rappers. It might be forgiven as a poor illustration if he had been giving a 40-minute sermon on the topic of disobedient cowardice and happened to mention Christian rappers in passing as one of many examples. But the subject was Christian rappers and he went out of his way three times to use the word cowards/cowardly.
In the second sentence, Botkin now says he does not believe “that all of today’s Christian rappers are cowardly.” I would like to know when he changed his mind. Because he did not make any distinction in his panel comments. In fact, he closed those comments with, “Reformed rap is the cowardly following of the world.” That sounds all-inclusive to me. Has his mind changed because he’s been reading the many critiques of his comments? Or is he trying to claim that he was making this distinction the whole time - when he obviously was not.
This statement may be the key to eventually finding some common ground with Botkin. Either he's changed his mind - for which we would be thankful and rejoice - or he's digging in and in complete damage control mode, denying the plain meaning of his panel comments. This change of mind really needs further explanation and clarity.
In the third sentence, Botkin apologizes “to anyone out there who was hurt by my strong language.” Note that he doesn’t apologize for his strong language. Never in this apology do we hear “I’m sorry that I said… I was wrong.” In well-known non-apology form, Botkin apologizes that you were hurt, not that he he said anything wrong in the first place.
In the fourth sentence, Botkin asserts that his comments “not directed at any particular artist”. Well thanks, but I knew that already. Why single anyone out when you’ve already condemned the whole “so-called art form”? It would be like me saying “all redheads are obnoxious” and then when someone rightly calls me on it being like, “What? I didn’t single anyone out!”
From start to end, this apology is disingenuous. Botkin needs to repent and apologize for his original panel comments, and now for this non-apology as well. The fact that I’m having to write this post is embarrassing. But not as embarrassing as the comments made by this panel, Botkin in particular.
The closing statement in the Apology blog post, this paragraph again from the blog author:
Then please let me suggest that begins with repenting and apologizing for the comments made by this panel - both individually and as an organization.
We look forward to God glorifying dialogue with our brothers in Christ on the important matters of culture and the transforming power of the gospel.
In many ways I hate to publicize the video, not only because I find the arguments presented fallacious and nonsensical - but also because I think there are some serious problems with cultural superiority among the panelists. But because I intend to interact with teach of the speakers below, I post it for anyone who would like to watch.
***UPDATE 1/4/2014: I see that NCFIC has taken the video down from Vimeo. While I understand some possible reasoning behind that, I believe it is important for people to be angle to hear the comments in their original context and tone. Here are links where you can download the video: HQ (206 MB) LQ (55 MB)***
While working through the video, I made a transcript, available here for anyone who would like to read it or use it to interact with the panel elsewhere. The names of the panelists are listed as (I believe left to right and in order of appearance) Dan Horn, Scott Aniol, Geoff Botkin, Joel Beeke, Jason Dohm, and Joe Morecraft.
Speaker #1, Dan Horn (Begins at 0:57)
I would be very against reformed rap. Let me tell you why. Words aren't enough. God cares about how we deliver the message. And there's two aspects of the delivery. The purpose of songs is to instruct. It's also to praise God, it's also to worship. But its to instruct and to admonish. We’re given the words because we’re a word-based religion, the emphasis needs to be on the words. And just having good words is not enough. The question is where is the emphasis. And I would argue with the rap [sic], with the heavy beat, with those things that the physical distraction is so much that the focus is no longer on the words. And music should be about helping us to remember concepts that we need to remember. And help us to carry forward. Music is a wonderful tool as a memory aid. Rap’s not that good for that because of the other problem with rap. The problem with any other form of music is who’s the attention drawn to. And rap is about drawing attention to the rapper, drawing attention to how his skill is different than anybody else’s skill. To how he is a special person… [Story about M. L. Jones & a preacher with an unimpressive delivery who brings great glory to God.] that’s what all preaching needs to be. It needs to move the attention away from you and towards God. Otherwise it’s about you. And my problem with reformed rap is I think in the end it’s always about the rapper, even if the words are correct.
Argument #1: The beat and music are too distracting in rap, so that the focus is not on the words.My response: Our ears become trained and skilled at identifying differences in music and its lyrics in styles of music we listen to most. Exposure to a type of music is going to naturally make the lyrics easier to identify. It's not surprising that Speaker #1 has a hard time hearing the lyrics of the Christian rap song(s?) he tried listening to. He's not used to listening to rap. His ear is not trained for the task. The sad thing is that he imports his own (lack of) experience into everyone else who listens. He might consider that to someone who listens to hip hop on even a semi-regular basis would be able to hear well the lyrics of Christian rap. In fact, the style of music can actually enhance the focus on the lyrics, difficult as it may be to believe.
Argument #2: Attention is drawn to the rapper instead of to God.My Response: I am especially saddened by this argument. There are many Christian rappers and hip hop artists who genuinely desire to glorify Christ and to use their own platforms as an amplifier for the gospel. Just like many Christian "celebrities": artists, pastor and writers. All of these can be tempted to bring glory to themselves. But the interviews and interactions I've observed in Christian hip hop have demonstrated a true desire to avoid pride and give glory to God alone.
One more example of poorly thought out arguments in this video: The idea that rappers alone, unlike other artists, seek to draw attention to their own unique abilities - and this makes it impossible to glorify God. Does an excellent Christian painter not show his or her unique abilities in every painting? Christian photographers show their unique eye in every photograph? Doesn't every Christian singer sing with a distinct voice and use those talents God has given? Uniqueness and originality are not detriments to God's glory. They in fact enhance and display His creative initiative in both creation and redemption. Is a rapper's voice and style distinct and identifiable? That only means the artist is good at his craft.
Speaker #2, Scott Aniol (Begins at 3:06)
Music is a medium of communication and God cares not just what we say but he cares how we say it. That's the function of music. And if we truly believe in the sufficiency and authority of Scripture, I believe the Scripture should govern not just what we say - in other words not just the content - because I’ll agree, I’ve read a lot of the lyrics of the reformed rap and some of them are much more doctrinally dense than some of our songs. That’s true. However if we truly believe in the sufficiency and authority of Scripture, Scripture will govern not just what we say but it will also govern how we say it. So the question I always want to ask is (because remember Scripture is given to us in literary art forms: narrative, poetry, these sorts of things, parable, and those should govern our art forms as well). And so I want to ask with anything with hip-hop, with any form of music: does it compare? Are we allowing the art forms, the way truth is communicated in Scripture to also govern our art forms. When it comes the art form of hip-hop, very few will disagree with the cultural milieu out of which it grew. What it was intended to express by those who created the art form. The only defense I've heard by reformed rappers of why they want to use this form is they say, “Well we want to redeem the form of rap.” But when I read Scripture, whenever there's redemption there's change. There’s fundamental change. So I’m all about redemption of musical forms, but if we were if we truly redeem certain musical forms to express God's holy truth that will mean that those forms will change to actually be appropriate vehicles for the communication of God’s truth as is expressed in the very Word of God itself.
Argument #3: Respect for Scripture means we limit our art forms to those that fit what we see in Scripture.My Response: Or, if we really respect the Bible, our music will only have a piano and pipe organ. I use sarcasm here to make a very real point: It is the tendency of all of us to read our own traditions, methods, and practices back into the Bible. We are blinded by cultural-centrism that judges everyone else's practice by the criterion of ME. I wish the irony would sink in with those who promote this view - that the art forms they view as "in line with Scripture" are almost always the same ones they have a certain level of comfort with. Might it not be the case that the comfort came first - and only later the conviction that their favorite forms were superior and "biblical"?
Argument #4: Rap is inseparable from its ungodly cultural heritage.My Response: Numerous music styles that have since been assimilated into accepted church music have borne this same criticism. Rap and its cultural heritage may be inseparable in the minds of some people (a panel of old white guys, just as an example). But for many other people, rap is just another genre of the music we've heard and enjoyed for years.
To be honest, I've heard this argument made with a greater amount of persuasiveness from some older black pastors. But even the men I've talked to about this have admitted that they are so uncomfortable with the music style that it is hard for them to view the subject objectively. They admit that for younger generations it may be possible for Christian rap to be a good influence. But coming from these panelists, for some reason, the argument is lightweight and doesn't carry any water. I suspect it's because as you listen to the panel, you can sense their distaste for the musical style. It's not so much that they can't separate rap from its worldly heritage, it's that they don't care to try.
Argument #5: Redeeming rap would mean a change to the form of rap.My Response: So let me get this straight... The speaker is "all about the redemption of musical forms" and would love to see Christian rap redeemed - as long as the musical form changes? What kind of redemption is that? It's not. It's an end to the art from of rap and a replacement by something else. His statement that he is "all about the redemption of musical forms" is disingenuous at the deepest level, even thought I don't think he means it to be. The ones who are doing the hard work of redeeming an art form are the very ones he's criticizing here - Christian rappers.
Speaker #3 Geoff Botkin (Begins at 5:15)
Yes, amen to that. “Do not be conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” And what concerns me about this this so-called “art form” - it's a picture of weakness and surrender on the part of people who think they're serving God. And they're not. They’re serving their own flesh. They’re caving into the world. They are disobedient cowards. They're not really willing to engage in the fight that needs to be engaged. Scott, thank you for saying that. If we are reformers we are going to change and fully redeem and replace the world. We're not going to make ourselves friends of the world and enemies of God. And so this is what concerns me about anytime Christians, in a cowardly way, follow the world instead of changing it and confronting it. And confronting the antithesis. And we need be doing this in every every possible art from - including film, including other kinds of music. And so, Scott, just to summarize: Reformed rap is the cowardly following of the world instead of confronting and changing it.
Argument #6: Christian rappers are caving in to the world.My Response: The most distasteful of the panelist comments. Dripping with superiority and self-congratulation. Judgmentalism on display. There is really no argument made by this panelist, just assertion. And then poor use of biblical terms and themes (esp. "world/worldly). This guy just joins a long list of fundamentalists who categorize all sorts of things as "worldly" that really have no intrinsic moral value at all. Long pants for women. Long hair for men. Anything other than the KJV. Earrings for men (just wait for the last panelist). Tattoos. Theatre. Pop music. Rock music. Rap music. Worldly. All worldly. So says the fundamentalist. But we evangelicals engage the world, we don't hide from it.
I love the revealing statement about how true reformers "redeem and replace" the world. This guy just added a whole new concept to what reformation has been about through 500 years of church history. It's a telling comment though. He realizes they can't leave it at redeeming rap. It must be replaced.
Speaker #4, Joel Beeke (Begins at 6:31)
I don't have much I add, I agree with everything that's been said. Just maybe add one thought. If my children, with their upbringing were to start to embrace this - I would use all these arguments, with intensity that they've been spoken. When someone comes to me, who comes from a culture that’s raised that way, had no Christian background, and first hears this kind of rap and listens to the lyrics and gets really interested in Christianity - first thing I don't challenge them on is the form of the music. I try to take them in, disciple them, and break this in slowly to them. So let's have a little compassion for people who, for whom they related to this culture - which we don't really relate to at all probably - and work with them. And get them to this point where they understand these things. But that doesn't happen a day. That's only thing I would add to it.
Caveat #1: If someone grew up with no Christian background, but became interested in Christianity through Christian rap, we shouldn't attack their love of rap immediately. We'll save that for when they have matured a bit as a Christian and are ready to be instructed in the better way.My Response: At least here we have someone admitting that Christian rap could conceivably do some good in the world. Possibly help someone's spiritual growth. But only for someone with "no Christian background." And did you hear the affirmation of the prior comments? Did nothing at all seem out of place or poorly stated?
Caveat #2: We don't relate to this culture. At all.My Response: Yeah.
Speaker #5, Jason Dohm (Begins at 7:27)
I’m gonna get sucked off the stage with the gasping happens with what I say here. I’m probably the only panelist who’s ever had TobyMac on my iPod. Yeah. They want to know who Toby Mac is. We’ll tell you after the panel. So here's what here's what drove it home for me: A few months ago I saw picture of TobyMac. Vintage TobyMac: backwards hat, ready to rap, and but he's 50 now. Wasn't 50, you know, when he became cool. And he’s starting to have wrinkles on his face. OK, so he’s 50-year-old man with wrinkles on his face - got that backwards cap, and he's ready to rap. And what didn't seem unseemly when he was a young man just looks really out of place in the pictures now. So the question is: 50-year-old men in the church - is their job to extend a hand down in the Church and to pull them up into Christian manhood? You don't see the discontinuity so strikingly until they start getting wrinkles. It’s our job to reach down to our young men, offer them a hand and pull them up in maturity and Christian manhood. That is not doing that.
Argument #7: Aging Christian rap artists don't look right performing any longer and are unable to be an example of biblical manhood.My Response: What an incredible double-standard. Do any people "look" like they did 20 or 30 years ago. Isn't it obvious that anyone involved in the media culture goes to great lengths to continue to look young? And this panelist is going to criticize a brother in Christ for not living up to the botox ideal? Or for not wearing a suit and tie or at least a polo shirt and khakis? Dress your age, Toby Mac. In the music industry, it is a badge of honor to continue making relevant (to the market) music over such a long period of time. Once again the cultural centrism of the panelists is on full display - if you're going to be someone young men can look up to, you need to act, dress, and behave in the ways we're comfortable with.
Speaker #6, Joe Morecraft (Begins at 9:07)
I don’t think any of us are saying that in the worship of God there's only a certain kind of music that should be sung - like we should only sing country-western music in church. Or we should only sing classical music, etc. But I think what we are all saying is that some forms of music cannot be separated from the culture out of which they come. That’s an important thing to bear in mind. When we have young men or women the church let's say the young men start wearing an earring. I say, “What's the purpose of the earring? The pierced ear?” And they'll say, “Well I just like it.” or “I think it's nice,” or “it’s the fashion,” and I say, “Do you know why it is the fashion? Do you know who you're identifying with when you wear this earring? You're not identifying yourself with the godly men in the church but with an entirely different culture out there. And same thing with certain forms of music. I don't want to be controversial or unloving, Brother Biggie, but I believe rap is the death rattle in the throat of the dying culture. And I think also that we must not use music in the worship of God where the words get lost in the music. And all people hear is the music. Now that doesn't just mean rock-and-roll, that means some songs, you know, that you can waltz to. That people remember an old tune or identify that particular beat or rhythm or kind of music with something in their past and so, even though they might be singing the right words the connotation is something entirely different. And I think that the music that we use in the worship of course all the words must be true. We must sing our hymns to God, they must be about God, and anything we say about ourselves in the hymns must be with reference to God. And I think the music by which we sing must fit the majesty of the words, and the dignity of the words, and that there be edification and instruction as well as praise in the words. For instance: music where everything is just repetitious, you say the same thing over and over and over and over again and people call it various things, and it may move them emotionally, but that kind of music is so boring - I think it's also disrespectful to God, it doesn't reveal any kind of real knowledge of God. So music as all of us know is a very sensitive thing. There’s certain kinds of music I like and certain kinds I don't like. We use a great hymnal in our church, but some of the tunes are funeral dirges and I don't like singing funeral dirges in church. You remember what it says the Old Testament? The purpose of music is to raise sounds of joy. That is to help us in our joyful praise of God. You must always ask yourself, particularly you young people who listen to music a great deal on your iPods and all the rest: What does this music do to me? How is it making me feel? Is it making me feel anxious? Bitter? Upset? Lustful? How is this music making me feel? And the same thing I think we should ask when we’re worshipping God: Is the music enhancing and strengthening the words that were singing, to the glory of God? Or is it basically the tune that we’re after?
Argument #8: Same as argument #4: Rap is inseparable from its cultural heritage. (See above.)Argument #9: Same as argument #1: The words get lost in the music. (See above.)Argument #10: The music we sing should fit the majesty and dignity of God.My Response: Here and a number of other places panelists have failed to make any distinction between the music we sing corporately in worship and music that is intended to be listened to and enjoyed that way. I agree with this particular point as a general statement - but not that the principle applies to Christian hip hop. Plus rap is not written for the corporate worship service, and a good amount of this speaker's argument is invalid as soon as we realize this distinction. But even without that distinction, the best Christian rappers do exactly what he's describing here: they produce music that allows them to have deep doctrinal content, pointing to the glory and supremacy of Christ in a way no other form of music can. And the panelist may not be able to see any "dignity" in hip hop, but I and many others do. Especially when young generations absorb and internalize the content and style and talent of the rappers we've been discussing here.
Argument #11: Rap doesn't bring about the right kind of emotions and response. (Implied)My Response: There are plenty of people who enjoy and are edified, encouraged, taught, by Christian rappers. The best examples of Christian rap bring about the best kinds of response to music: seeing and knowing Christ, desiring to follow him and forsake sin, passion for evangelism and biblical roles in the family, the list could go on. And on. And on. For speaker #6, Christian hip hop may not be edifying. But can we at least recognize the possibility that it possibly could be for many others?
- We can and sometimes must critique cultures of which we are not a part. But this panel is an example of how not to. If you want to critique a culture from the outside, I see a number of requirements: humility about possible lack of understanding, intellectual curiosity about the subject being explored, caution in pronouncing rightness or wrongness in grey areas, a willingness to believe the best in others, a sense of one's own culture's strangeness to outsiders. More could be named, but these are some of the traits I find almost completely absent from this panel's comments.
- The wisdom of being slow to speak and quick to listen is on vivid display here. Why speak so firmly about a subject you have obviously not seriously engaged?
- Pastors (and I am one) often have a tendency to make broad sweeping pronouncements on issues we're not all that familiar with and have no expertise about. We ought to slow down.
- Wisdom requires that we frame disagreements on non-essentials as questions of preference, not as questions of right or wrong. Why is it that out of six speakers, not one said anything like, "I personally have a hard time seeing how there could be much spiritual benefit from Christian hip hop, but I know others think differently..."?
- I'm only marginally familiar with the Family Integrated Church model (and have in the past had generally positive impressions), but if this panel is representative of the logic and spirit of the movement, then may its tribe decrease.
- I have avoided charges of racial insensitivity in the interest of charity, preferring to focus on "cultural-centrism." A number of people commenting elsewhere have detected racial insensitivity and I will not disagree with that charge, even though I've not chosen to emphasize it throughout this post.
The ESV Study Bible Online (free in November, normally costs $22.50)
The ESV Study Bible is the king of study Bibles. The book introductions and articles on various topics are a tremendous resource, and that's all in addition to the textual notes you normally think of as the meat of a study Bible. Jump on the opportunity to get this resource for free. You'll create an account at esvbible.org and then add the web app to your account.
The NET Bible (always free)
The NET Bible is a translation and study Bible together published by scholars at Dallas Theological Seminary. The notes here are in-depth and often more technical than what you find in general study Bibles. They often deal more with translation and interpretive questions than with the theology of the text. I don't know of another free resource where you can get this kind of quality information. And if your question touches on some of these textual and translation areas, other study Bibles may not even address the issues.
The Holman Christian Standard Study Bible (always free)
The HCSB Study Bible is a quality general study Bible. The website has a number of other free tools integrated with the study Bible as well as modules you can add by purchasing. I don't think the interface is as polished as the other two and the resource itself is a solid second choice for general study Bible behind the excellent ESV Study Bible.
From D. A. Carson's The King James Version Debate, A Plea for Realism (Baker, 1979). He goes on to argue that if that principle were true (that more literal=better translation) then the logical conclusion would be that we ought to all use the NASB, which is very clearly the most literal of the popularly available translations. And very few people who have made this argument to me have been advocating the NASB.
In a recent article Iain Murray, editor of The Banner of Truth, defended the King James Version (KJV) against the New International Version (NIV) largely on the ground that the former attempted a more literal translation, and this he alleged, was more in keeping with the doctrine of inspiration. It is a fair assessment, I think, that says the KJV is more literal than the NIV, although, as I have indicated, I doubt very much if that should always be taken as a compliment. But why a literal translation is necessarily more in keeping with the doctrine of verbal inspiration, I am quite at a loss to know. For example, if I may refer again to an illustration I have just used, to translate "Haben Sie niches gefunden?" by "Have you nothing found?" would scarcely be more honoring to the German author than "Haven't you found anything?," even though the latter translation is certainly less literal than the former. The Holy Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture equally inspired the syntax and idioms. Ultimately what we want is a translation that means what the original means, both in denotation and connotation. Even if one objects to Eugene A. Nida's famous expression "dynamic equivalent," because it can lead to all sorts of freedoms with respect to translation, it ought to be obvious that to some extent every translation, from anywhere on the spectrum, is necessarily involved again and again with finding the "dynamic equivalent."
Quote from The Doctrine of the Christian Life: A Theology of Lordship, pg. 423-424:
It is remarkable that theological errors, including errors about God's being and actions, are often reflexes of movements in the secular culture. For example, the concept of libertarian free will has dominated philosophy (both process and analytical schools of thought) in the late twentieth century. Process theology and open theism followed in the wake of that movement. Secular feminism made great gains in the general culture in the 1960s and 1970s. Following that, theologians tried to show that they could be feminists too. Today there is a trend in theology to say that the scripture blesses homosexual relationships, following the secular movement toward homosexual rights. To a distressing extent, new theological movements follow fashionable secular trends. When a position become popular in secular politics and culture, it seems quite certain that some theologians will discover that position in the Bible and church tradition. At this point, the first commandment becomes especially relevant. One must ask, Who or what are we worshipping: the God of Scripture or the fashionable trends of secular culture? In my judgment, for example, the Bible clearly declares homosexual activity to be sinful. Others have argued differently, and I try to take those arguments seriously. But I cannot help but feel that some are resolving these issues, not on the basis of honest exegesis, but rather because a pro-homosexual position is required in some circles for academic, political, and cultural respectability. It seems almost too coincidental that theologians began to question the traditional exegesis of these passages in the wake of the secular gay rights movement. I do agree that secular ideas may legitimately move Christians to reconsider their exegetical findings. But in my judgment the pro-homosexual exegesis of these passages is so unpersuasive that it is hard to take as anything other than a cultural reflex. In many ways, Christians have an easy time in the modern West. For the most part, we aren't asked to die or suffer physically for our faith. But God does call us, on occasion, to hold unpopular beliefs. Can we not even do this much for Jesus? And if not, can we really claim to love God with all our heart? At this point, our theology becomes a first commandment issue. It is a question of whether we value cultural trends more highly than God.
A little while back I preached a series through some selected Psalms. Psalm 119 was one of the Psalms I chose to preach. I made this image as a way to demonstrate the acrostic nature of the Psalm. Click on the image for a full-sized rendering of the first 72 verses of the longest Psalm in our Bibles. (Note: The image is quite large, so your web browser may resize it to show the full image. You may need to click the image or take other steps to see it in full resolution.)
The 22 stanzas of Psalm 119 are made up of 8 lines each, each of them beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Another feature of Psalm 119 is that almost every line (4 exceptions*) contains one of the eight terms used as synonyms for "Torah", often translated "law" but probably better understood as "instruction" or "teaching." The eight terms used throughout the Psalm: Torah (instruction), ordinances, decrees, word, statutes, precepts, commands, and promise. The translation of those terms may vary slightly deepening on which Bible translation you're using.
Psalm 119 is clearly a well-thought out, well-ordered piece of literature. Note the repetition of the eight terms but the variety of ways the psalmist expresses honor for the word of God. The sermon I preached on Psalm 119 is available here.
*The four exceptions: Verses 3 and 37 have "ways", verse 15 has "paths", and verse 90 has "faithfulness". Each in context is virtually synonymous with "instruction".
When I spoke on the purpose of local Baptist associations a while back, I listed three main roles for local associations in the 21st century: (1) encouragement in sound doctrine and theological accountability, (2) becoming a channel of financial resources rather than a reservoir, and (3) establishing, equipping, and empowering churches. Associations will be greater assets for the kingdom of God if they prioritize the promotion of sound doctrine in the churches they serve.
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This particular local association voted yesterday to retain in its membership a church that had ordained a man who is openly homosexual. (I don't intend to debate the merits of that issue here, though will say that my own position is that the whole Bible is clear: homosexuality is sinful and contrary to God's moral will.) This really prompts the question of what role a local association has in cultivating, and even sometimes requiring a basic amount of theological agreement among churches. Can there be a church that has so far departed from historic Christian teaching that they ought to be disfellowshipped from an association?
For many years, that question was answered in the affirmative without much dissent. Today, as you can see, the landscape is different. What role should theological unity play in our local Baptist associations and how do we go about achieving that? I plan to attempt an answer to that question in an upcoming post.
Local Church Autonomy
One of the distinctive beliefs of Baptists is a conviction about local church autonomy. That means that a local church is self-governing under the Lordship of Christ and influence of the Holy Spirit. No person or organization has the authority to tell a local church what decisions it must make or how to act. Not even the Southern Baptist Convention can direct member churches to act. The most they, or a state convention, or a local association can do is withdraw from the participating relationship. The most the SBC or a local association can say to a church is, "We disagree so strongly with your position, we no longer consider you a member and will no longer accept your financial support." No outside organization can force the autonomous local church to act contrary to its own wishes.
Nothing in this scenario, however, prevents other organizations from trying to influence churches to make certain decisions or take action on an issue. For example, the last several years, the International Mission Board has been asking churches to consider adopting an unreached people group. Such an effort is commendable and worthwhile. It doesn't violate local church autonomy because the IMB is seeking to influence churches to make that decision on their own.
So a local association may not assert any authority over a local church, but it may attempt to influence a local church in various ways. The question we'll ask below is how and which ways are appropriate and helpful in our cooperative efforts together.Continue Reading Article...
I'm a member of the local Ruritan club (community service organization) and we meet one night each month. We have about 20 people at a normal meeting. They're pretty relaxed, we eat dinner together, talk, then have the formal meeting for a little while before we leave. I don't remember all the details but it went something like this. One guy was up at the front talking a little longer than everyone wanted but obviously had a few more things to say. He told us that the Ruritan national president might be visiting our club. Knowing that some (i.e. all) of us were pretty much clueless as to Ruritan hierarchy, he graciously decided to fill us in. I'm pretty sure this is the exact quote: "…the Ruritan national president, that's pretty much like the president of the United States." A friend was sitting across the table and we looked at each other when he said that. Both of us lost it. Trying to stop laughing and be quiet, when one of us finally got it under control, we'd see the other's shoulders shaking from laughter and we'd start all over again. Honestly trying to stop the whole time, it took four or five minutes before we could stop laughing.
What was so funny? What got it all started? An analogy that just didn't quite fit. I guess there may be some similarities between Ruritan national president and POTUS: The title… Ok I give up trying to find any more. My point is that in order to say something is "like" something else, there needs to be some deep, essential aspects shared by the two items—otherwise the analogy is more harmful than helpful. Here's a few examples:
- I love my wife. God loves my wife. Therefore: I am like God. (true in some sense, but mostly misleading and potentially dangerous)
- Bicycles are vehicles. Automobiles are vehicles. Therefore: Cars are like bikes. (please don't tell this to my four year old learning to ride a bike—he might grab my keys and give it a try)
- Christians participate in churches. Christians participate in local Baptist associations. Churches do ministry. Associations do ministry. Churches have leaders. Associations have leaders. Therefore: Associations are like churches.
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