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Monday, November 21, 2011

An abridged case for Christian Rap

If you don't know who this is, then you probably aren't into the Christian Rap scene. This is Lecrae, one of the most popular and influential Christian Rap artists in the world. He and four other members of Clique 116*(see note at bottom) from Reach Records (Atlanta) were in Lilongwe yesterday on one of their stops in the "Unashamed" Africa Tour. In short, it was a great night!
So some of you are reading this thinking: "Christan rap? Is that some kind of paradox? I thought all rappers were uneducated gangsters whose songs not only sound the same, but all talk about the same thing: sex, drugs, money, power. I don't like how they dress, how they act, and that whole culture of hip hop." For those of us ignorant enough to think that this line of reasoning holds any water, this post will not be for you. You've probably already started to get defensive or you've already navigated away from this URL. Maybe not...read on!
I got turned on to Christian Rap by one of my best friends in college, Robert Neighbours. In those days it was Cross Movement, a group of guys in Philadelphia. I was attracted to their witty, poetic, Biblically solid, and passionate lyrics talking about Christ's gospel.
It was extremely refreshing to see (and hear) these guys reclaiming a genre of music that is so often used to express what was listed above (sin), for the glory of God. Some people argue that the urban culture which includes rap music is just all wrong, usually because of what we see on TV or the news. But the urban culture does exist, and it is not going anywhere. Thus, rap music is a God-given means by which artists can reach the culture for Christ, and transform it to be conformed to Christ's image. It's not a whole lot different than artists using the "rock" genre to reach people who like rock. Remember that rock used to be seen as "of the devil" about 50 years ago (this still persists among some super-conservative corners of Christendom, ie ABEKA publishers). But now countless bands use this music to not only express the gospel in their lyrics, but share the gospel at their concerts (Third Day, Kutless, Switchfoot). Or like using sports (which can be the course of idolatry, celebrity worship, greed, and unrestrained competition) to provide a platform to share Christ with people who would otherwise be closed to even hearing about Jesus (Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes in Action, short term mission trips from Flood in 2004!).
A year ago, I got a Lecrae record, "Rebel", which is one of my favorite albums across any genre of music. I was so impressed with their unflinching faithfulness to Scripture. Album highlights for me:
Don't Waste Your Life- I'm thinking a play on John Piper's great book with the same title. Don't waste your life on all the stuff our world tells us to, but give it for God's glory
Go Hard- Living hard for Christ's sake and not backing down in timidity from the challenge of the world.
Identity- Speaking against our identity being found in external things, and instead, finding it in Jesus.
The Bride- Talking about the church, in its imperfections, still being God's chosen vessel.
So when Lecrae was coming to Lilongwe, I figured I should go. I'm not a big concert-goer, so I was most interested in finding out how these guys would articulate their Christian faith through the concert. Would the emotion and energy and "culture" get in the way? I went with Becca, some colleagues, several students from the academy and a bunch of college students. I kinda' hung out in the back, reserving my limited dancing skills (all based on goofy white-guy interpretation of good dancing) for the few people behind us. The show was high energy, and the guys were very entertaining. They did several songs that people knew which sent the crowd into hysterics.
So how'd the group do with keeping Christ at the forefront?
-They prayed at least five times in the two hours they were on stage.
-They had interludes between pretty much every song, preaching about Christ in their lives. Some of these interludes centered on: "You may think we're superstars, but we're not. Jesus is the one you are looking for." "We challenge you to be unashamed of the gospel even if it's going to cost you a lot." "Many of you need to stop doing some things that you're doing now, like sleeping with your girlfriend and getting drunk." "Going to church, reading your Bible, coming to this concert does not make you a Christian. You have to believe, and follow Jesus as your Lord."
- Lecrae stayed on stage at the end and shared the gospel, faithfully and with personal transparency, for 15 minutes straight. He walked straight through the first chapters of Romans and recited Scriptures that condemn all of us as unrighteous. Then he offered the Hope that is found in Christ, His death and resurrection. He repeatedly asked for silence, and for people to realize that this was the most important thing that would happen during the concert. I was so stoked! At the end, he asked people to head to the back if they wanted to pray with someone (organized by Flood church in Malawi). I'd say at least 80-100 people went to the back to pray with someone.
So I was a Lecrae fan before, but am now a Lecrae supporter as well. He and the guys in Clique 116* are being faithful with their considerable gifts, to the preaching of the gospel around our world, and most recently in Africa. Isn't that the call placed on all of us? Praise God for saving us, and then sending us to lost people. We would do well to be challenged and encouraged by these guys, however different they may be from us, who are living out the gospel.
*Clique 116- The name comes from Romans 1:16 which says: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."