Yesterday I mentioned (see here) a post by Efram Smith where he critiques the recently evolving “odd marriage” between “holy hip hop” and Calvinism. Smith understands Hip-Hop to be a form of music that emerged as a voice for “poor urbanites feeling rejected by upwardly mobile people of color.” On the other hand, Calvinism is a “theology driven by the priviledged”. In context, he states the following:
“Hip Hop influenced entirely by Calvinism is no Hip Hop at all. Reformed Theology, though it contains some theological elements that I totally agree with should not be the only or primary theology influencing Holy Hip Hop. Calvinism is Eurocentric in nature and in the United States of America has evolved into a theology driven by the privileged. Hip Hop, Holy or Secular is about the engaging and presenting of the issues surrounding a sub-culture of the historically marginalized of urban America.” (See the full post here)
Later in the day this blog received a trackback notice that Bobby Grow had written a response. I read it and I thought it presented an important counter-critique. Grow wrote:
“It seems like to me that Smith is of the belief that theology is really a political maneuver; one associated with a power game. What makes Liberation Theology, for example, any better than Calvinism? Aren’t both suspect constructs? Don’t both presume upon a certain doctrine of God? Is Black Liberation Theology more proximate to the Christian Gospel because it developed under constraints that were seeking to throw off the oppressor? To me the problem with both of these alternatives is that the Calvinism Smith has in mind suffers from a God of brute power (and thus theocentric while not christocentric); and Liberation Theology suffers from a focus that is horizontal in orientation, and thus man-centered. I don’t think either one of these alternatives actually represent good alternatives for hip-hop artists. Not because one developed in Europe and the other in Latin America, but because neither one actually offers an actually Christian approach, methodologically. So it’s not where a theology was developed, but what, and more importantly Who that theology communicates. Am I denying that locale has no effect on theological development? God forbid! If theology could be marginalized because of its socio-cultural genesis; then to be consistent with this, we would also need to say that Christianity is only really viable for Jewish people. Since, of course, Christianities’ particularization is Jewish and finds its mooring in a first century Jew named, Jeshua.”
Unfortunately, it seems like he has removed the post (Update: The post is available again here). I thought the point he was trying to make was worth discussing. Is Smith proposing “that theology is contextual and thus because it is contextual only has relative and particular purchase versus universal force in its proclamation” as Grow said elsewhere in the post?
In another post with a different response, T.C. Moore shared a couple of short articles he has written on Calvinism’s influence on Hip-Hop (see here). In the first article he states, “It is no secret that holy
hip hop is now dominated by Calvinist theology, and honestly I’m concerned about the effect this
will have on the generation listening.” Why? Moore makes the following points:
(1) Calvinism is determinism.
(2) Determinism is not the theology of the oppressed.
(3) Hip Hop is a culture born in oppression.
(4) Calvinism dominates conservative theological education in the United States.
In juxtaposition with Grow, it does seem that Moore is suggesting, at least in part, that Calvinism is culturally conditioned and therefore, in this instance, yes, theology is contextual. The context of Calvinism (maybe not in origin, but at least in recent history) seems to favor the status quo while Hip-Hop has always challenged that very thing.
In Moore’s second article he suggest some of the following:
(1) He is concerned with the number of Christian Hip-Hop artists embracing Calvinism because (A) it can reinforce institutional racism (i.e. it propagates the theological system of the very conservative seminaries who promote an “inordinate and disproportionate exultation of the theologies of dead, white/European theologians over the present, majority, global theologies of non-white people groups around the world and Black theology developed right here in the US”) and (B) it plugs itself into an already present “cultish theological elitism”.
(2) He worries that it will impact the current listening generation resulting in (A) “apathy and complacency” and (B) an “indifference toward evil and injustice”.
I recommend you read Moore’s articles because my overly simplified points are for introduction more than summary. Likewise, if Grow restores his post it is worth reading for a counter point.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Is Calvinism compatible with Hip-Hop? If so, how? If not, why not?
If Calvinism is “truth” then the only thing it would be incompatible with is darkness.
@CarolJean: In some sense I understand what you are saying, but I think that may oversimplify a bit. Can a system be truthful without being correct at every point? If so, are the basic tenants of a system like Calvinism compatible with the worldview from which Hip-Hop emerged?
Great conversation – and one some on the Western campus have from time to time as Art Azurdia pastors a group of artists and is set to speak at a conference for this musical genre in Chicago in July.
But our assumptions about modern hip hop have to be updated. Hip hop no longer comes from a place of oppression (do we dare say anything existing in the American context is formed in oppression or poverty?) In fact I would suggest that modern hip hop or rap is from a place of false or marketed oppression – the artists “pretend” to be oppressed if there is any sign of it in their work. So the genre really is formed in affluence today and it is no longer racially exclusive. Rich white kids are laying down some sick beats (is this how I should talk of hip hop?)
Once we move past our wrong assumptions we can get to the issues that matter and key among them is the quality of the hip hop. Frankly the Calvinists are just better. The art is more enjoyable versus tired versions of other points of view…
@Jonathan: This is a valuable point worth making: Hip-Hop itself has changed.I have often said that Hip-Hop was once something that scared the establishment until it realized they could make money from it. Once this happened, well….Kanye West, need I say more?
I may anticipate this response though: Does corrupted Hip-Hop justify a merger with the worldview of Calvinism? Could not someone say this is only about symptom proving Hip-Hop is sick and it has lost its original, society challenging vibrancy?
Indeed but where does this line of questioning end? Could we also say that other theological views are only symptoms proving the reformation is sick and has lost its original, religion challenging vibrancy?
Well, we know the reformation is sick!:)
I guess the question is whether or not this Hip-Hop is truly Hip-Hop. We can ask the same thing about a lot of modern Hip-Hop. Is Nas correct to say that it is dead?
Thanks for the linkage. I restored it, I felt it might be a little controversial; and I wasn’t sure if I was feeling controversial enough to actually engage folks in my comment meta to argue for what I was saying in my post one way or the other. But since you caught me, and I woke up feeling controversial; I’ve restored it 😉 .
I would just want to clarify something, though: I’m not saying that Calvinism isn’t “contextual,” I’m challenging the idea that “because” it’s contextual it then is unable to transcend its particular context and communicate anything that might have universal “Gospel” force.
I would say the same for “Black Liberation Theology” that I am for Calvinism. And of course what I’m saying about Calvinism is notwithstanding my own frequent critiques of Federal, “classic” Calvinism. I think the critique of any theology should be of its material conceptual stuff, and not of its socio-cultural situation as determinative of its material stuff. As if its’ socio-cultural approapriation necessarily reflects its material conceptual communication; to me this is post hoc (there’s no necessary causal relation between its material-conceptual stuff and its socio-cultural appropriation).
@Bobby: I’m glad to hear you woke up that way! Thanks for the clarification on the point about contextualization.
I would agree that a theological system shouldn’t be dismissed simply on the basis of it socio-cultural situation, though I do think it is very important to recognize its presence. I think Smith and Moore are trying to make the point that we shouldn’t assume some sort of disconnected, universal truth to our theological systems that is divorced from the contexts in which they have formed and in which they have been sustained (of course, I cannot speak for them).
So I’m curious, what do you think? How would you answer your own questions from above?
I would say (1) it depends on the brand of Calvinism. I agree with T.C. that Calvinism can be deterministic, though I have been around enough Calvinists who have explained their views to me in such a way that I can’t echo his broad statement that Calvinism = determinism.
Therefore, (2) it would depend on the nuance of the Calvinism and whether or not a particular brand has the ability to talk about God’s predestinating action in such a way that it maintains the tension of the call to care for orphans and widows, for there to be neither Jew nor Gentile, and so forth. Since Calvinist have told me that I am not one of their own I will refrain from saying what this may be.
Finally, (3) Jonathan’s critique above needs to be taken seriously: Does Hip-Hop as it existed still exist? Has Hip-Hop itself changed in such a way that this is a mute debate? I don’t know if I have an answer to that one either.
I agree that some forms (the most popular form in America) of Calvinism can be and are “deterministic” (or even Stoic). But this does not take into account all forms of Calvinism, such as what we are promoting as Evangelical Calvinism for example. And there are other forms that developed alongside the determinative kind in Puritan England that were not “determinative” per se.
I have serious theological problems with the popular Federal or even Piper/MacARthur kind here in America. But that said, I think there is still a piety present amongst many Calvinists that still allows many practicing Calvinists to go beyond their God of determinism, and to proclaim the Gospel to the reprobate (to use their talk) etc. In a sense I think TC has a real point about the “theology” itself (but I think its too quick and caricature to label the whole “tradition” they way he and Efrem do). I also think, though, that the alternatives these guys seem to be promoting (like Liberation Theology etc) is also open for some heavy critique as well. It can be critiqued on terms of its heavy pelagian tendencies (which itself has a “European” pedigree).
And I agree with your point (3) (and Jonathan’s) which is what I was getting at with my post when I ended it like this: P.S. It seems as if Smith is also arguing that the Hip-Hop form is a static reality. But as with any linguistic construct it is dynamic and fluid; indeed, contextual and thus able to kick out the doors of its own particularity in order to express universal truth (whether that be found in Calvinism, Liberation Theology, and most likely Evangelical Calvinism 😉 ) I think Hip Hop has morphed. Ironically, my wife and I were just talking about this and Snoop Dog the other day (another rapper who grew up in my old neighborhood); how he has moved from the “hood” to somewhere in the “OC” (Orange County). Or even someone like “Ice Cube” etc. They’ve all gone “mainstream,” whereas before they would’ve been considered “sell outs;” now it seems that hip hop has itself become “mainstream” and thus no longer necessarily in need of its real life gangsta roots (just its gutted image). It seems that it has expanded and morphed as Jonathan has said.
Of course Calvinism is compatible with hip hop. It’s silly to suggest that it isn’t. Calvinists can rap, manipulate turntables, break dance, and scribble graffiti just like anyone else. I noted some problems with Moore’s views on Holy Hip Hop and Calvinism a couple of years back (here & here). Smith’s description of hip hop leaves much to be desired as well.
I will say this. Hip Hop comes from a context of oppressed people groups (originally anyhow). When it began to become marketable did it fall prey into the auspices of bourgeois desires. You know, how much platinum I have, cars, women, etc. At one point hip hop was political, but now it has fallen away, and is only symbolically so.
Calvinism is thoroughly an middle class religion, a theology for the rich. It has always been so, thus, the most faithful Christians that I know, who identify as Calvinist, are fiscally conservative, to very very libertarian. For some, the bible has as its goal middle class. T.C. Moore and Efrem Smith, while hinting, are close to offering a class critique of Holy Hip Hop. Fact is, almost 70% of secular hip hop’s audience (buying wise) is white, and therefore the Reformed movement is not to attract blacks and hispanics, to to keep younger whites in their fold.
Class matters. Context matters.
It is interesting to see how Bobby emphasizes that Hip-Hop has morphed, Nick seems to see the essentials as not being grounded in the message but rather the presentation, and @Rodney presents a totally opposite take on the matter.
I think this will inform how one answers this question. If Hip-Hop is its message and its roots then Calvinism seems to be a foreign intruder. If Hip-Hop is merely its presentation, and it has changed, then we can toss a lot inside the definition….including gold chains, sports cars, and John Calvin.
Brian: I’ll make a couple of brief points here but I plan to say more about this on my blog in the near future (I’ve even been inspired to go ahead and review a book by Micky Hess called Is Hip Hop Dead?). So here goes:
(1) There was never a time when we could speak of “the” message of hip hop. It has never been a monolith and it never will be. Rappers have been a diverse bunch from the start.
(2) To answer the questions you asked above:
“Does Hip-Hop as it existed still exist?”
Yes, hip hop still exists as it once did in the sense that the four elements are alive and well. The topics of discussion are still the same. The people engaged in participating in the culture come from the same places, which is to say that from its inception hip hop was a racially and socio-economically diverse movement.
“Has Hip-Hop itself changed in such a way that this is a mute debate?”
Has it changed? Sure, it’s more commercially successful now than it was then, but that’s to be expected, after all, what’s commercially successful right out of the gate? It’s also more widespread (due largely in part to its commercial success). But it hasn’t changed in such a way that this is a mute debate. It’s only a romanticized view of hip hop as the music and culture of the oppressed that would lead one to think so. That view doesn’t have any legitimacy though when one looks back on hip hop’s beginnings.
And yet, I wouldn’t want to say that because it has morphed that this is what makes it “compatible” with Calvinism, Liberation Theology, or any other theology. Even if we grant that rap or hip hop is the music of the oppressed; then we would have to establish that Calvinism, for example, is incompatible with the oppressed. And we can’t do this, per se, by observing how or who socio-culturally has appropriated Calvinism; but instead we have to deal with the merits or demerits of Calvinism itself, viz. conceptually-materially what it has to offer or not (same with Liberation Theology etc). Scripture being the norming norm that determines that, not culture’s appropriation (at least as the singular barometer).
Further, I don’t think anyone, at least me, ever said that “context” doesn’t matter; but that context doesn’t shackle hip hop for example to its particular genesis. And as Nick has noted, developing that genesis is much more complex and not monolith as some would seem to suggest.
@Nick: Your post (on which I will comment on your blog soon) did a solid job of challenging the assumption that Hip-Hop has gone from the music of the oppressed to the commercialized music of the rich. I am interested in seeing if/how T.C and Rodney respond.
@Bobby: I understand the point being made, but I still want to say “yes” and “no” because I don’t see ideas as being divorced from the socio-historical context in which they have evolved. So part of the test is to see if a particular worldview has only found acceptance amongst certain people groups (or at least as a majority has done so) and then we must ask why this is so.
Calvinism has had a long enough history for this study to be made. That being said, I am no expert on the history of Calvinism and its reception in various cultures. That it is being accepted by groups that have traditionally been at odds with it may say something positive to the Calvinist construct.
My only point back, Brian, would be that I don’t see something like Calvinism having any kind of dominant form even in its origin. Same as Nick has been highlighting with the origin of rap. I have numerous posts at my blog that discuss the origins of Calvinism, but I’ll refrain from linking those here at this point 😉 . We would have to demonstrate that early Christian rappers, for example weren’t “Calvinist” in orientation themselves before I would be comfortable in characterizing this issue as if this has only happened in the more recent developments of rap and Calvinism apparently joining hands somewhat.
Boy do I have a lot to say about THIS post.
I spent a number of years as a hip hop artist on Syntax Records and put out several albums while touring all across the U.S. and parts of Europe. From time to time, I still do “shoes” when I travel to Africa. I still get invites for tours and *shhh, don’t tell anyone* make beats and record.
But I also kind of “moved on” from that as a lifestyle because I believe God called me to pastor and having a wife, children and the process of finishing seminary made it impossible to tour full time.
So I am somewhat of an “insider” though not nearly as much as before. I also would consider myself a “Calvinist” soteriologically speaking.
What I would simply suggest as the diversity in “Christian” hip hop is huge. It is NOT largely Reformed in theology because there are SO many artists out there that are not as well-known COMMERCIALLY as artists on labels like Reach Records.
Again, the diversity is huge.
I also think that our culture (hip hop) has changed. When I was growing up, being a non-black or non-Hispanic was largely an anomaly. Eminem changed that, but so did the Internet and wide-spread computer usage. The days of beat making being done by ONLY the committed are gone because few use MPC’s anymore and anyone with a computer can basically start making beats and recording songs.
Since the culture has matured and grown, it HAS changed from the earlier years. But it is far more diverse than I think is being represented here, to some extent. That being said, I applaud the non-recognition of Toby Mac as a hip hop artist! 😉
The underground “non-mainstream” is still alive, creative, and super diverse!
@Luke: That you for providing these insights. I have not been in the loop regarding Christian Hip-Hop so it is good to hear that there are many views being represented, especially at the underground level (which admittedly, many of us forget to acknowledge).
@Brian: I was thinking more about this and I would venture to guess that the strongest “theological perspective” that is found in “holy hip hop” is probably Pentecostal theology. In the earlier days, there were TONS of Pentecostal (AoG) groups making hip hop (mostly Christian “gangsta” rap).
So, there are probably more “Arminians” than “Calvinists” – ha ha! But that’s hard to say, because a lot of hip hop heads are not very theologically minded. But that seems to be changing…
@Luke: I had not thought of it that way because many of the “Arminian” types are more implicit about their doctrinal views whereas this newer Calvinist version seems more explicit.
The most important part of responsive commentary to TC Moore by Efrem Smith is when he says: “I put the full blame on the African-American church, which has done a great job over the years of rejecting Holy Hip Hop artists. Because the African-American Church has made orphans of Holy Hip Hop artists..”.
The Lewis guy out of Texas started the spark and then black Churches nationwide started the wildfire and burned it down. There is not one black Church in the entire SE/Easter seaboard that will welcome in HHH artists. But, then look at the black Churches nationwide in massive foreclosure. Yes, the economy can be partly to blame but also when you demonize an entire culture and youth, and then kick out these street preachers who could have helped you bring in people, to replace your aging and dying congregation, the result is what you see today.
Here is the black church foreclosure google link (thousands nationwide). http://www.google.com/#sclient=psy&hl=en&source=hp&q=black+churches+foreclosures&aq=f&aqi=g-j1&aql=&oq=&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=2955d2dfcccaf0cf&biw=1320&bih=619
So, it may not be a bad idea of this marriage with Calvinism because at this rate, there won’t be any black Churches left, all of the holy hip hop preachers will be tied into all of the white Churches and that Lewis guy and everyone who followed him down that path will be on the outside looking in, while white parents use the music to edify and uplift their kids, while black parents watch their kids die, denigrate, degrade and continue to fill up prison cells.
So, maybe not call it an “Odd Marriage” but maybe a “Perfect Marriage”. The devil tricked Lewis and many others to drive away these holy hip hoppers, now he is laughing as the black Church disintegrates right before everyone’s eyes.
Kudos to John Piper for truly understanding scripture and knowing that God is omnipotent over all things, and too bad for that Lewis guy and all of those who followed him and his anti-holy hip hop rants, as they will be held accountable for the death of the Black Church, especially as all of these hip-hoppers who are out of the Church, begin seeking salvation and all that is out there for them as they look around is Holy Hip Hop (in white Churches), remaining ostracized and banned from the dying black Church. If it were not so true, it would be sad.
Maybe guys like Smith and Moore can change this destination, via works and not just words, as the writing is on the wall, and it will take more than blogs and tweets to stop it. It is going to take a new thinking, a new direction, an Apology (sort of like what you were implying in your words where you stated, “I do want Holy Hip Hop artists to know though, that they are loved by many African-American pastors…”. But, time is running out and that is one thing that we all know for sure. JT
Where exactly is this post by Nick that does a “solid job of challenging the assumption that Hip-Hop has gone from the music of the oppressed to the commercialized music of the rich.” I’m very interested in reading it. I’ll probably read it on my laptop while I sit in front of the television. And while I’m reading it I’ll count the number of times hip hop is used as tool to sell some product that has nothing to do with hip hop. I guess I’m just “assuming” that I see hundreds of hip hop pimping commercial to sell corporate crap per week. I should stop doing that.
@TC: His post can be found here: http://rdtwot.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/hip-hop-romanticism-and-idealism/
Reblogged this on Taylor Cain's Blog and commented:
Satellite Kite brought me here and all the lyrics I have read only edify and encourage the body of Christ and I love that in music!
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