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?