Holy Hip Hop and Calvinism: An Odd Marriage Indeed

May 10, 2011   //   by efremsmith   //   hip hop, justice, race, the church, theology  //  46 Comments

In the recent edition of Christianity Today there is a story on the marriage between Holy Hip Hop (or Christian Rap) and Calvinism (or Reformed Theology). Contemporary Reformed Theologians such as John Piper and John MacArthur are having a major influence on Holy Hip Hop artists such as LaCrae and Flame. Though I have some issues with this, I understand the reasons why. First let me present my issue with this odd marriage.

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.

True Hip Hop is constructed around the elements of the emcee, the deejay, the b-boy or b-girl, the graffiti artist, and most importantly, knowledge of God for knowledge of self. The original principles are peace, love , community, and having fun. Hip Hop originally was about providing an artistic and social alternative to gang violence, drug dealing, prostitution, and other negative elements of urban culture. It was also about speaking truth to power. It was about poor urbanites feeling rejected by upwardly mobile people of color.

This doesn’t mean that the culture was ever Christian in nature, although there has always been a respect on some level for God. Today, many are stating that true Hip Hop is dead. It’s been replaced by a European-American controlled record industry that makes money off of exploiting the very things that Hip Hop culture was created to go against. Please get this point, secular Hip Hop is being influenced by people outside the culture, who have turn it into a contemporary plantation.

Now back to Holy Hip Hop. Holy Hip Hop is being controlled by people outside of the culture theologically. I have great respect for John Piper, but I question his understanding of Hip Hop culture. I pastored a Hip Hop and multi-ethnic, evangelical church in Minneapolis for almost eight years. Dr. Piper never consulted us on our theological or philosophical approach to this type of Kingdom advancing ministry model. Myself, Rev. Phil Jackson, and Dr. Daniel Hodge have been labeled as Hip Hop Theologians. We all count this as an honor. We have written scholarly works on the subject. We desire to love, mentor, and embrace our brothers and sisters in Holy Hip Hop. Holy Hip Hop artist need to know scholarly and organic theologians such as Tom Skinner, John Perkins, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Soon-Chan Rah, Martin Luther King Jr., James Cone, and Howard Thurman.

I want to make it clear that I don’t want to put down Dr. Piper. I have great respect for him and would love to have healthy dialogue with him on this subject and others. What I am saying is that Calvinism cannot be the lone theology shaping Holy Hip Hop. This is why currently most Holy Hip Hop takes place at Evangelical events, in front of predominately European-American audiences. I don’t blame Holy Hip Hop artists for this though. 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, theologians such as John Piper have become spiritual fathers to the movement. I can’t hate on Dr. Piper for that. I do want Holy Hip Hop artists to know though, that they are loved by many African-American pastors, I being one. I’m also willing to bring to the table liberation and reconciliation theology, so that the movement might be true Hip Hop and true Jesus. Let’s come together for the sake of the Kingdom.


  • Pastor Efrem, I so appreciate your insight and boldness to give us an opportunity to not be theologically malnourished.

  • Thank you for this insightful article that helps me see what I’ve been trying to put my finger on. I hadn’t seen the Christianity Today article. I’ve been rejoicing that while some Holy Hip Hop seems to be benefiting from even better production and quality, the theology behind Holy Hip Hop does not seem to be evolving at the same rate. I’ve been wondering for a while why the thinking of people like John Perkins, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jame Cone does not seem to have an impact on Holy Hip Hop. This helps me understand what’s happening.

    In my humble experience, much of Holy Hip Hop has a huge emphasis on the afterlife and forgiveness of sins. As someone who works with young men in East Oakland, I’m always looking for Holy Hip Hop that has a more robust theology with implications for the Kingdom of God in the here and now, reconciliation, liberation…just anything more holistic.

    What would help Holy Hip Hop artists grow and develop philosophically and theologically? Would it be African American and Latino pastors from the inner cities taking the initiative to become mentors?

    On a related topic, I’ve also been intrigued that many of the mainstream popular hip hop lyricists, the so called “socially conscious” crowd, that show the most depth and spirituality in lyrics are more influenced by the Muslim faith. I’m wondering if I’m the only one who has this perspective.

    Thanks for the article. I don’t think there are many places I could find this kind of conversation.

    Peace to you

  • Pastor Efrem,

    I totally agree with your thinking on this. It is also worth pointing out that many of those within Neo-Reformed Holy Hip Hop are folks that have very little background with the (best of the) Black Church and many were unchurched. Folks like David Fitch have called out the Neo-Reformed movement on this saying that their so-called “missional” movement is really a dressed up version of attractional/seeker-sensitive methods. I think the same thing is happening in the Holy Hip Hop world (in addition they are attracting folks that are caught up in churches and theological traditions that have sketchy theology – like prosperity teaching, etc.). The movement is very trendy and reactionary now. Have you checked out Sho Baraka? He just recently left Reach Records because he wants to be less of a Christian rapper than a rapper who is Christian. I believe that it is folks like him, as well as cats like Propaganda (and the entire Humble Beast label) who need to connect with leaders such as yourself and the broader evangelical tradition, especially the African American one which includes folks like Skinner, J. Deotis Roberts, Perkins, Cecil Cone, etc.

  • Pastor Efram,

    Thank you so much for speaking out on this subject!!!

    When you put Skinner, Perkins, Cone, and Rah in the same sentence I got up and did a Holy Ghost dance—I couldn’t help myself!!! YES!! THANK YOU!!!

    Please, please, please don’t stop writing about this!!! The US Church needs to hear more from voices like yours!!

    [breaths sigh of relief]

  • […] was just reading a good little article by Efrem Smith entitled: Holy Hip Hop And Calvinism: An Odd Marriage Indeed (HT: BL). The topic is an interesting one, and one that I think is definitely worthy of developing. […]

  • Mixed feelings…like when I watch a t.v. show and I hear rap music meant to establish the fact that the plot is going to be in “the ghetto,” as though “the ghetto/street life/thug life/hip-hop culture” and African-American culture are synonymous. But where does that leave a “brother” like me whose never been “shot at, sold drugs to, or pressured to join a gang, etc?” Now add to that this article. So is Calvinism (which I firmly disagree with) not “Black enough?” But that’s just it. What is “black enough” these days?

    I feel that African-American Christians are in a unique Kingdom position: because we have utterly lost our true historical/cultural identities due to slavery and must appeal to God to tell us who we are, since only He knows…only He knows what nation and tribe we are from. Paul could say that he was a descendent of Abraham from the tribe of Benjamin. I can say one but not the other. I always wanted to know my history before slavery, and hip-hop culture does not give that to me. True, there are connections between hip hop and African Culture, but all of the “ghetto slang thug” connections tarnish anything I feel compelled to associate with. In other words, even if I found out the land and tribe of my forefathers, what do I do with that knowledge? I was still born and raised in Macon Georgia, a leaf fallen off of an Acacia tree. Mixed feelings…

  • […] Efrem Smith on the “odd marriage” of Christian rap (a genre I, admittedly, don’t enjoy) and Calvinism. Fascinating! 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. from → Uncategorized ← On Hell, Pt. 152,362 LikeBe the first to like this post. No comments yet […]

  • Pastor Efrem,

    I have to respectfully disagree with a lot of what you said in your post. I understand that there are a lot of dimensions to what you are saying, but there are several points that I feel you are simply not understanding about the Holy Hip Hopper’s. Seeing as though no one has taken the other side on the issue, I feel led to step up and speak for the reformed hip hop movement.

    1. To say that “Hip Hop influenced entirely by Calvinism is no Hip Hop at all.” Is a generalization that fails to understand the movement of what people like Reach Records are doing. Their theology may be Calvinist, but they are missional and working for the kingdom. And I take slight offense to the statement, “Calvinism is Eurocentric in nature and in the United States of America has evolved into a theology driven by the privileged.” That is hardly true. John Piper, who you mentioned several times in your post, is perhaps the most well known Calvinist in America and has spent his life trying to destroy the health, wealth, prosperity Gospel, and to imply that a Calvinistic hip hop is a hip hop that can’t engage with a hurting or less privileged demographic is not true and misleading.

    2. You say that Holy Hip Hop is being “…controlled by people outside of the culture theologically” and then go on to question Piper’s understanding of the Hip Hop culture. Piper’s support for people like Lecrae is merely that, support. His has not claimed to be the mentor, or father of the holy hip hop movement. He is merely a supporter and, no fault to his own, what he says has an impact. Not because he targets the hip hop culture, but because holy hip hop has targeted him. They follow him because he preaches to their theological tastes, not because he creates them. If John Piper, tomorrow, recanted on his Calvinist beliefs and embraces the health and wealth Gospel, you better believe that the holy hip hoppers would stop following his preaching. Piper is merely feeding the flock.

    3. You say, “Because the African-American Church has made orphans of Holy Hip Hop artists, theologians such as John Piper have become spiritual fathers to the movement.” I would say that the holy hip hoppers have not been made orphans but runaways. They are runaways in search of a church that is doctrinal where it should be. I feel as though you are portraying the holy hip hoppers as victims of the own environments, taken away by Calvinists, and brainwashed by John Piper. They are merely pilgrims journeying with God, the theological development of the holy hip hop movement lies internally in what the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives, not externally in the words of Piper or MacArthur.

    4. You say, that you are “…willing to bring to the table liberation and reconciliation theology, so that the movement might be true Hip Hop and true Jesus.” So a movement without those things is not true to Jesus? I find that these statements portray hip-hoppers like Lecrae and Flame as ignorant people who are in the dark thanks to people like Dr. Piper turning off the lights. That is hardly the case, they are well studied, well read, and ecumenically engaged. They know what they believe, and why they believe it. Thinking that they have simply fallen prey to the applauses of the “predominately European-American audiences” is simply not true.

    I hope you find these points well established and please know that everything I say, I say out of love and a true conviction that what Holy Hip Hop is doing is good for the Gospel, good for the Church, and good for the Nation. I would love to hear your response.

    God Bless,
    Wesley Vorberger

  • Wesley,

    I thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m not sure if you understand the points that I’m really trying to make with this post, so let me go a little further.

    1.) To really understand where I’m coming from, you would need a history of hip hop culture (which many in Holy Hip Hop are disconnected from, at least in their lyrical content), the African-American Church, and urban ministry.

    2.) From point #1, you would see that hip hop culture represents the first authentic generation gap in the African-American community. During the Civil Rights Movement, the African-American Church actually embraced young people to a degree and even empowered them to serve as leaders in this church-based and socially transformative movement. Hip hop culture is a post-soul, post-civil rights, post-church movement. It is post-church to the degree that hip hoppers were rejected to a large extent by the African-American church. The African-American Church in a broad sense have not empowered the hip hop generation to the degree that they did with the Civil Rights generation. This is a case I’m making.

    3.) This rejection creates a void and a orphan state, which I refer to in the blog. It also separates holy hip hop from the theologies and best practices of the African American Church. This is what creates the opportunities for pastors and theologians such as John Piper to have such an influence.

    From these points let me state further that I’m not anti-John Piper. My issue is that Calvinism alone is not a complete enough theology to assist holy hip hop in engaging urban culture for kingdom purposes. Yes many in holy hip are well-learned, but their learning is limited to predominately European-American theologies and best practices. This is not all bad. I’m influenced in this way, but I was fortunate in seminary to have professors who pushed me beyond just calvinist thinkers. This issue in part, is why holy hip hop artists tend to minister more in suburban, white, and evangelical settings than they do the very settings that they grew up in.

    Holy Hip Hop needs not only to be influenced by John Piper (which is not a bad thing) but they need the additional influence of John Perkins, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Skinner, Howard Thurman, Soon-Chan Rah, Brenda Salter-McNeil, and Curtiss DeYoung. If they are not aware of who these people are, they are missing out on theologies that could be very helpful in the further development of the holy hip hop movement. Most people that disagree with me are spending more time defending John Piper and Calvinism than showing a deep understanding of hip hop culture, urban ministry, reconciliation theology, black liberation theology, or evangelical theologies beyond Calvinism which include compassion, mercy, and justice.

    I hope this gives further understanding to where I’m coming from.

  • Pastor Efrem,

    Thank you for your elaboration, I do feel like I understand you more clearly. I genuinely appreciate your patience with me as I do lack the historical perspective you feel is required to engage in this dialogue. I guess the main thing that I was taking away from your post is the idea that a hip hop must be rooting in many different streams of thought (not just a Calvinistic theology), and I can see where there would be value in that. I can also see how you would think that Calvinism limits the demographic to which there music appeals (and rightly so, obviously not everyone stands in that camp of theology). I think the main problem I see with the critique is that it appears to devalue the work of the holy hip hoppers based solely on that fact. If you find many people defending Piper and Calvinism, it’s because that seems to be your main point of contention.

    In regards to your main point, I understand a little more (from your point 2 above) about what you mean. But could it be that this orphaned genre of music is able to reach out to the theological church that it now desires? I feel like you place holy hip hop in a position of powerlessness as if it wishes it could be in the Liberation Theology or Black Theology movements but isn’t allowed to be because the African American church won’t let them in (or hasn’t in the past). I don’t want to speak for the holy hip hoppers as a whole, but I feel as though many of the big Christian hip hoppers know that they could cater to those audiences, but don’t, not because they have been ostracized, but because they have made a choice to follow certain doctrines they find to be orthodox, and stay away from those that don’t.

    Now again, I understand that I am not the most qualified to discuss the matter, but I feel as though the hip hop movement has defined itself, and is not a product of abuse by the African American church. If the holy hip hoppers found value in African American theologies, I don’t think they would have let the churches past dealings with secular hip hop dictate their present incorporation of African American theologies. Their unashamed of the Gospel, and the theology that comes with it, I guess that’s the main point I’m trying to make. What if holy hip hop has identified itself as predominantly Calvinist? Is it not possible to do that and maintain the hip hop virtues of “Peace, Love, Unity, and Having Fun”? Can the elements of the deejay, as well as the other things you defined “True Hip Hop” as, coexist with Calvinist lyrics? And if not, why can they only exist with Liberation Theology lyrics, or other black theologies? Is the point of origin of a theological system the sole fact in determining whether or not it can be considered for use in hip hop lyrics? Wouldn’t you say that in addition to the hip hop virtues you laid out, they are the form through which free speech is carried out? If the form is kept, then the message cannot be negated simply because it doesn’t cooperate entirely with the African American church and its theologies, can it be?

    I hope these questions help you see where I am coming from. Again, please know that I am very thankful for your response and this healthy dialogue is helping me to understand the picture much more clearly.

    God Bless,

  • The most important part of your commentary Efrem is when you say: “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, a guy like you Efrem 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

  • No Jeff, if the black church in the US is dying (which I’m not convinced is true), it is people like John Piper, the churches, and the seminaries where these HHH artists have been trained that are contributing to its demise. I am so proud of pastor Efrem for boldly proclaiming the unpopular truth that, “Calvinism is Eurocentric in nature and in the United States of America has evolved into a theology driven by the privileged.” These HHH artists that have adopted Calvinism have been culturally assimilated and it is the assumption that they must submit to Calvinism’s hegemony that is widening the generational gap in the black church—and it needs to be stopped. Calvinism and hip hop is not only an “odd marriage,” it’s a dysfunctional and abusive marriage that should be annulled.

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  • God’s church is universal and I don’t think you can marginalise it the way you have here. It should not be about the black or white, church at all. I always wondered why there was a Second Baptist Church in the USA, until I found out what the First baptist church stood for? We here in South Africa are moving away from a crippling past of segregation and our children after a few short years since independant elections in 1994 are going to the same schools, listening to the same music and fellowshiping in the same churches, and yes maybe we parents (born in the 70’s) still hold some prejudices in our hearts but as the manifested church of God here in the Southern tip of Africa, we are learning to overcome these things. Fair enough… Black people are not a minority here as is the case in the States but you’ve had a lot more time to overcome the iniquities of the past? Hip hop has always been oppressed by people’s negative outlook upon it and has always come up tops in the end and evolved for the better by all influences, why not from calvinistic (positive) influences, taking Hip Hop to a new genration of listeners and converting more sinners to Christ and ultimately bringing glory to God, our sole purpose on this earth.

  • I was around when the first holy hip hop movement was sparked through The Cross Movement in the 1990s. Be careful about the idea that Reformed Theology is popular among all Christian rap artists. That is more of a recent development. What waspopular among the ones I know is a thirst to understand the Christian faith through not only its preachers and teachers in the last 300 years but also through the polemicists and apologists as far back and Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Jerome and others. See, most denominations only teach THEIR history but dont seem to go beyond the Protestant Reformation. Add to this the aggressive assault on Christian doctrine and theology by some prominent secular rap artists of the time who were orthodox Muslims, Black Muslims, 5 percenters and Hebrew Israelites that was influencing young black youth. Mind you, this was in northeastern section of the U.S. where these religions and cults had taken deep root in Philly and New York City.

    This led many of us to increase our understanding of the historic Christian faith because these other rap artists from other religions were teaching the masses a corrupt form of the Christian faith or simply attacking it. This is one reason why The Cross Movement was so aggressive and presented a deep theological defense in their first couple of albums.

    I would also venture to say that this was also a response to the heavy emotionalism present in the African American Church where, in some cases, deep theological reflection was not being encouraged. As it was stated, many of us came from a thoroughly non-Christian context and once we accepted Christ, we hungered for something that could sustain us in the midst of hip hop: an aggressive candid art form.

    I did not grow up in the African American church but I am very much acquainted with it. The decline of the prophetic voice of the Black Church is why, I believe many in the Black Church cant and wont recognize hip hop music as an extension of the spoken word that is so prevalent in our culture.

    Let me stop here. :)

    In short, many of us felt ill equipped to deal with the onslaught of cultic thinking that was becoming popular in hiphop.

  • What I don’t understand is why this is about race. There is no such thing as a black church or white church or latino church. It’s only God’s church. Now this include people from all nations, tribes, and tongues, but for those who have believed and repented in Jesus Christ for salvation they are apart of the ONE body of Christ.

    Secondly, I agree that both Calvinism and Arminianism should be explained to every Christian, because both are Christian. However, I believe I would be naive to think that these artists haven’t been exposed to those doctrines and have primarily found Reformed theology to be more biblical. they are doing great work for the Glory of God and I think we can agree that God’s Glory is much more important than HHH staying to it’s historical roots. If God is glorified by us just getting out of the way sometimes and letting the guy live out their convictions, then who are we to say no. I’m praying that we will stop worrying about whose influencing who and let’s just love God together at live out His Word.

  • Well, I’m not sure why you don’t believe that there is a Black Church or White Church, this is very evident historically and presently in the United States of America. The Black and White Church is not biblical or God’s invention, but it is real. The Church in the United States of America begins in slavery and then evolves in social dynamics such as Jim Crow segregation.

    Now, we’ve made much progress since then, but even with that, the church in the U.S. remains 93% segregated. If there is no such thing as the Black and White Church, you’re going to have to explain that reality. I’m for developing Post-Black and Post-White churches that become truly Kingdom Churches. This is the kind of church I served in Minneapolis for seven years and it’s the type of churches we’re developing in the denominational region I currently serve in today. We can’t develop these kind of churches if we deny that they White Church exists.

    Efrem Smith

  • Efrem,

    I am having trouble understanding your posts. On one hand you say you desire for greater kingdom collaboration and on the other hand you seem to be fighting for ethnic roots and “black churches.” Those two in my mind seem to be diametrically opposed. Real kingdom collaboration would be Lecrae and John Piper hanging out and influencing one another. In your posts I feel that you’d rather Lecrae and the HHH movement hang with John Perkins…why is this? What’s the motivation? Is not John Piper focused on reconciliation and good theology? Lecrae is living incarnationally in his hood and he is discipling a bunch of African American guys in good theology and missional living. AND he is doing it by being discipled and influenced by guys like Piper…and Lecrae is discipling a bunch of white and asian people…isn’t that breaking down the segregation that is 90something %? Not to mention Lecrae and the HHH movement is collaborating with all kind of other churches and networks (such as The Gospel Coalition) so what’s the issue? Aren’t they going in the right direction?

    I want to see more of that, not less. Because that speaks volumes to a world where we segregate and don’t allow people from the other race to influence us or disciple us. To be honest, your posts seems to work backwards, not forwards. Is it because of Calvinism or because of your desire for the historical African-American church to be kept in its original culture?

  • Sam,

    I think your missing my point. There is no shared ministry going on between LaCrae and John Piper. It’s Piper influencing LaCrae theologically. This is not all bad. The problem is, it’s not enough. The Bible is multi-ethnic and multicultural and so should our theological influences as long as they are rooted in the Scriptures.

    I’m arguing for the Black Church to the degree that it ought to influence our theology and practice just as much as the White Church. The problem is the in the United States, the theology and the practice of the White Church and Europe is the dominant influence. We shouldn’t just limit this to the Black and White Church. We should be influenced theologically by Asian and Hispanic pastors and theologians as well who are deeply rooted in Scripture.

    I challenge Calvinism, because many Calvinist refuse to admit the racist and Eurocentric roots of it. Now at the same time there are parts of it that are very biblical. I’m concerned about someone who would put there whole theological practice in Calvinism. There are theological gifts to be gained from many parts of the body of Christ. I’m influenced by the theologies of John Calvin, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., James Cone, Howard Thurman, P.P. Waldenstrom, and many others. This what my argument is. LaCrae should have a diverse group of biblically rooted folks influencing his theology.


  • By your very last statement “Lacrae should have a diverse group of biblically rooted folks influencing his theology.” I conclude you also would agree Lacree should be influenced by maybe “Universalist” ?

    Where do you draw the line in what you consider “biblically rooted”?

    There are many examples of people who are clearly flat out right heretics, like for example the modalist T.D. Jakes who denies the trinity.

    By the way, Piper has spoken out against calvinism, and I do believe he is not one. MacAuthur on the other hand I’d place in a camp further to the right than Piper.

    Clearly I’m a white guy. So what would I know. But your argument kind of seems like you’d prefer he be influenced by members of the African Church only, no matter what they may believe.

    So you might want to clarify the context.

  • Mike,

    I would not agree with your opening statement in the response because I am theologically evangelical. If you look at the examples that I provided for how to develop a biblically rooted and diverse theology, I would not see universalism as being in the mix.

    I’m really talking about an evangelical, multi-ethnic, and biblically rooted theology. Calvinism alone doesn’t achieve this.


  • TC Moore: How could you state such an ignorant comment: “Not so sure black Church is dying.” You must be white and/or have never been inside a black Church. Here is an assignment for you this coming Sunday. Walk into 5 black churches in your city. Then report back what you see. Here is what you will see: a handfull of members, mostly black women 55-70, a handfull of kids all under 21 and a Pastor who is in his 70’s. It is that kind of ignorance and denial that is killing the black Church, and that sheer proven lost connection with the hip-hop generation is exactly why black Church Foreclosures are up another 18% this year alone. Yes, it is painfull and maybe you are even part of the problem too, but it is the truth. The truth is: Ignorant Black Pastors have done just what Efrem said they have done: Drive these holy hip-hopppers right into the hands of the white pastors, who have openly-embraced them. Euro-Centric means White. However, this makes perfect sense because the majority of rap music is bought by white kids, so white parents recognize this and are essentially saying: if my kid is going to listen to hip hop ,then it will be ‘holy’. That is what is happening now, again while the black Church drives them all out. God Bless Piper and every white pastor who has embraced these young street ministers and shame on the black Church for being ignorant and lost, as it is now paying the price for what it has done. It is not over yet, but the end is almost near. HHH has only gotten stronger and more powerful over the past several years, so as the black Church goes down, HHH goes up and white Churches continue to strive and thrive too. TC Moore, Craig Lewis and others are all collectively to blame. Efrem Smith should be applauded for speaking the Truth and opening everyone’s eyes to the fact again that: Black Church by spitting in the face of the holy hip-hoppers has driven them out of the black Church and right into the hands of ‘euro-centric’ Churches who are using this powerful tool, just like Paul to speak to these young kids in a language that they can understand and win them back for Him, while GOD deals with the black Church in His own way by accelerating its demise for abandoning His Children. TC before you post an ignorant comment, do your research first. Fact: Black Church is dying a slow and painful death. Solution: Find a Way to bring back the Youth and speak to them, reach them in a way that is relevant and right now the effective tool, clearly blessed by God as evident by its rapid advance and rise is HHH. If there is something else, that has impacted the Church culture so dramatically in the past 5 years, enlighten us all. Here is some more truth:

    September 30, 2011 – Black Church Foreclosures Rise 18%

    Gone are the days when a faith-based institution or church could simply walk into a bank and make a loan request or an adjustment on an existing loan.

    According to Dr. Richmond McCoy, president and CEO of UrbanAmerica Advisors, big banks are pulling out of the real estate business.

    “They are not picking on churches,” he said. “They have just come to realize it is no longer a lucrative business for them anymore.”

    As a result, McCoy and his company are putting on an informative seminar, targeting faith-based institutions in Orlando, FL. The purpose of the meeting is to help churches get an understanding of the depth of their problem, McCoy said.

    “The urgency, and the size and magnitude of the financial crisis that faith base entities have to deal with are important. Our mission is to equip people with knowledge to get them to understand what is going on in the financial business.”

    McCoy has 20 years of experience with faith-based entities, he said. Because he understands how to operate in these markets, he felt it necessary to get involved in some kind of way.

    “This is not new. But over the last year I have had all my pastor friends call me up for advice,” he said.

    Where at one time there was less than a one 1 percent default rate in terms of churches not being able to pay their loans, now that number is up to 18 percent, reports McCoy.
    Even those churches that are current on their mortgages are in trouble.

    McCoy said those churches are in technical default. That means if the banks required them to pay off their loans today, they would not be able to make those payments.

    “The value of the real estate has decreased so much over the last three years,” McCoy said. “Many churches cannot keep up with their loans because giving is down. Part of that reason is due to unemployment.”

  • Efrem,

    You rightly perceive that Piper’s Calvinism is Eurocentric. However, are you willing to admit that the influences of James Cone, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and Cornel West also come from Eurocentric, although more liberal theologies? Whether it is Piper or West, they contextualized European theologies to their particular context.

    I do believe, however, many of these holy hip-hoppers could benefit from a broader evangelical context (Maybe CCDA?) especially in regards to what it means to do “justice for the poor” (Prov. 29:7). This past year, when I went to the Legacy Disciple-Making Conference that so many of these Christian Hip-Hoppers are part of, I attended a session named “Mission: Poverty? Developing a Biblical Mission for the Church and Life.” Unfortunately, the presenter had a very narrow view of the church’s mission and all he did was quote John Piper on the subject. Not to necessarily criticize Piper, but the church’s mission in relationship to the poor is not Piper’s strength. Systematic Theology is what Piper is known for. Yet the presenter quoted Piper so many times as if he was the main authority on the subject. The presenter also criticized books such as “When Helping Hurts” (which ironically comes from a more reformed perspective) for not being biblical enough and for making the church’s mission too broad.

    Anyway, Eefrem, I do believe there is some truth to what you are saying. However, as you probably know historical theology, because Dr. King, Dr. West, or Dr. Cone, were profoundly influenced by European theologians from the 19th and 20th centuries, none of them can claim that their theologies were pure from Eurocentric influences.

  • Great news……the Legacy conference is featuring Dr. John Perkins! http://www.legacymovement.org/legacy-conference/

    These Hip-Hop artists will get to know the father of Christian Community Development!

  • Efrem, I would like to say a few things about this. The subject that you bring up here is very interesting to me for a number of reasons.

    Allow me to quickly tell you about the parts of my journey that have to do with this topic.

    I am 27 years old, grew up listening to Hip-Hop, got saved when I was 16 in a Pentecostals church where the prosperity gospel was preached and I went to a university that was affiliated with the denomination of my church. I am white by the way. I have lived in the suburbs most of my life but I currently live in the projects in the Knoxville Tennessee area, albeit in a suburban area.

    I believed in the prosperity gospel whole-heartedly until I went to college. Many of my friends, some of whom were black and hispanic, also rejected the prosperity gospel in spite of their otherwise Pentecostal theology. I became aware in college that not all Pentecostals believe in the prosperity gospel, which is something that I wasn’t aware of until then.

    I listened to a lot of Christian Hip-Hop at that time but most of it (except for The Cross Movement and Da T.R.U.T.H.) was saturated with the prosperity gospel.

    I think part of the reason Christian Hip-Hop was rejected by the black church early on was that they used the prosperity gospel as an excuse to brag about how much money they had (whether they really had that much money or not is another thing). The black churches that preached prosperity viewed it as something very serious and something very spiritual, not something that should be flippantly talked about in some lame brain Hip-Hop song. In other words, they didn’t view Hip-Hop as the best medium for getting the prosperity message out by and large.

    Long story short, I ended up embracing Calvinism to get away from the Emerging Church. There were a lot of changes that went hand in hand with this one of which was my rejection of the prosperity gospel.

    I was raised in a predominantly white Pentecostal church. But we were pew-jumpin’, aisle-runnin’, tongue-talkin’, devil-bustin’ Pentecostals. So we did songs by Carlton Pearson (before he fell off), Israel Houghton, Martha Munizzi, Clint Brown, Andrae Crouch, Joe Pace, and Edwin Hawkins. Those were the artists that we took our songs from for our choir. We also heard songs from time to time by Cece Winans, Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, Donnie McClurkin, and Fred Hammond when people would sing solos or we would have a visiting minister. We even had Shirley Murdock visit our church one time to sing.

    But even though this was how I was raised, I now found myself at a crossroads because of my newfound Calvinistic theology. I was reading John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and C.J. Mahaney. And I questioned a lot of what went on in Pentecostal churches.

    Fast forward a few years, I am making my way back to my Pentecostal roots. I have embraced what T.D. Jakes calls the “message of empowerment”. I have embraced that largely because I do see what your talking about where the Reformed crowd largely caters to a white middle class audience. Many of them don’t understand the way I worship as a Pentecostal. There is a difference between worship at the Passion Conference and worship at West Angeles COGIC. The worship I was raised with was closer to West Angeles than it was to the Passion Conference.

    But that is starting to change. A lot of white Pentecostal churches are losing their ethnic edge. They are moving away from singing black Gospel and are starting to mostly sing songs from Passion or stuff that sounds similar to that. I think that’s sad. I think that culturally speaking, what they had before was better. Not just musically, but in terms of ministry in an urban context.

    I am one of those white guys that mostly listens to black music. I mostly listen to urban contemporary Gospel but I also listen to the Reformed Hip-Hop artists that you mention in this article.

    I currently teach an adult Sunday school class at a holiness Pentecostal church. I am still Calvinistic in my views on salvation. But I also believe all of the important Pentecostal doctrines. The only one that is important to some Pentecostals that I reject is the idea that salvation can be lost. I believe that women can serve as pastors and teach the whole congregation. That is something many of the Reformed Hip-Hop artists probably do not believe being influenced by complementarians like John Piper. But in my mind that is one thing that puts them at odds with the Black Church.

    THey are starting to try to bridge that gap. Lecrae has collaborated with a couple of Gospel artists including the Nevels Sisters and Anthony Evans (I know he’s not entirely Gospel but he’s close).

    The reason I think that most HHH has not been influenced by Black Liberation Theology is that they’re not hearing that from the pulpit. Whether it’s T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Paul S. Morton, Thabiti Anyabwile, Voddie Baucham, Paul Washer, John Piper, or Mark Driscoll that they’re listening to, none of the those preachers have been influenced by Black Liberation Theology.

    There is a disconnect between what’s happening in the black seminaries and what’s happening in the pew. There’s an excellent book that tackles many of these issues that I read a few months ago called “Watch This! The Ethics And Aesthetics Of Black Televangelism” by Jonathan L. Walton. Another interesting book that talks about some related issues globally speaking (although it doesn’t deal with Hip-Hop) is “The Next Christendom: The Coming Of Global Christianity” by Phillip Jenkins. I have read both of these books. I think you could argue from “The Next Christendom” that some form of propserity theology be it “the prosperity gospel” or “the message of empowerment” is probably one of the more important theologies to African Christians.

    I am almost finished. I’m sorry I’ve taken so much space. I really think this highlights the disconnect though between the “white, middle-class, Reformed” crowd who rejects the prosperity gospel but is wealthy and the “non-white, lower-class, Pentecostal” crowd who embraces some sort of prosperity motif.

    For me, that’s where Calvinism doesn’t quite fit with Hip-Hop. So, I think I am saying the same thing you’re saying in a round about way but coming at it from a different angle (the message of empowerment rather than Black Liberation Theology). I enjoy listening to Otis Moss III by the way, but I have a sinking suspicion that he is a good deal more liberal than I am. That is my only real connection with Black Liberation Theology. The funny thing is, OM3 is in the Reformed tradition, broadly speaking of course. Interesting subject.

  • Efrem, if you get the chance I would like to hear some of your thoughts on some of what I said. I understand that you’re probably fairly busy. Still, I think that my perspective is somewhat unique and adds a different dimension to the conversation. Thanks.

  • Doctrines centered around men will always end up being destructive in the long run, and prove to be from demons. If you don’t believe me, ask the millions of dead native Americans. How was the Great Commission twisted into genocide? Calvinism.

  • And I’m commenting from an inside perspective. I promoted most of the gospel rap and vocal artists in an urban environment… And watched many Calvinist and noncalvinist ministers alike fall in sin, become corrupted in diverse ways, and degenerate into mere entertainers… Full of talent, hypocrisy, and pride.
    The reason this stuff is powerless in an urban context is because it is corrupted spiritually, just like any false doctrine can do to any type of ministry.
    After its corrupted, it can only succeed thru brand loyalty and lust for money (ie idolatry), because it cant move the kingdom of God forward until there is complete repentance.

  • Shalom Efrem,
    I’ve been reading so much in the internet about Hip Hop. Our situation is that in East Malaysia (Sabah / North Borneo), we don’t have Hip Hop generation such as gangster and drug addicts, singing Hip Hop at the street…nothing like in America. We do have Malaysian Hip Hop on TV sometimes, but generally it is not the culture of this nation.

    Ironically, the youth leaders are excited in promoting Hip Hop in youth conference, and other genres too. Reality is, we don’t have a Hip Hop society to approach with that kind of music. What I found out is that, the youth ministers love to do Hip Hop, for their own fame, for their own satisfaction, and called it relevant to this generation. What it does is they introducing foreign culture to the youth. Then, the outcome is on the other way around, which is they act just like MTV Hip Hop culture. The youth attracted to follow the culture and started walk like them, dress like them and going to night club like them. The youth leaders always say RELEVANT to this generation. I’m asking you, is this right? Because, we youth that does not have those, they are introducing it and creating audience for it, they get famous and boasting that they are the one started it???

    What we need here is your help. If it is possible, could you write an article about this for our youth. We can have it published in our church magazine. I will translate your article into Malay Language for this purpose. I am a volunteer for the church magazine.

    I have nothing to offer except prayer. Thank you so much, and may God bless your ministry.

    David Ebin (Deacon)

  • Good job Brother. “Holy Hip Hop is being controlled by people outside of the culture theologically” I actually can feel this affect in the music. I would say it weakens the message, the music, and the possibility for it to connect with the Hip Hop wider community. This is what I originally posted on the Urban Faith site.

    “It seems to me that such an approach to Hip Hop provides so many answers to a generation and culture that has yet to hear good questions. If the current critique of Lupe Fiasco is that he is too preachy, what will be said of this. For this generation, Reformed Theology seems to be as relevant as cassette tapes, floppy disks, or VHS.”

  • Thanks for the auspicious writeup. It if truth be told was once a leisure account it. Look advanced to far brought agreeable from you! However, how can we keep up a correspondence?

  • Since I didn’t read all the comments, I could have missed something, but….

    Did it ever occur to the OP that maybe Artists like Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle(he’s a white dude), Lecrae, Flame, Stephan the Levite, etc., just do not subscribe to the “Americanized Gospel?” I know there is more to your point, but what I see is that you are calling Holy Hip Hop to be true not to the Gospel, but to a ethnic heritage.

    I find almost no substance most Christian music, especially most Christian pop music, artist from Lampmode and Reach are such a breath of life… A daily dose of the Gospel!

    Forgive me if this was covered earlier.


  • Disgusting. If your race and culture are more important than who Jesus Christ is then you are not a true believer and are still under the wrath of God. The foolish of stupid men is to make everything about race/culture. Liberation theology is a perversion of the true gospel and God hates it. Anathema to those that preach a different gospel from the true gospel: we all deserve eternal hell and are only saved by the atoning death of Christ. Repent of your racism and care about God more than your “blackness”. Disgusting.

  • Jesus said that the gate to Heaven is small and narrow and only few will enter. It doesn’t matter whether someone is white, black, asian, etc… when you stand before God, he is going to judge you on whether you truly believed in his Word and the nature of your sins. You won’t get a free pass because you were born into a race that was oppressed by another. The white church, black church is ridiculous and exists only because of the arrogance that white people can’t possibly know the troubles that afflicts black people – with the small majority of white people who are still actually racist. The crime rate of black on black crime far outweighs the amount of white on black crime. There are black women who get their hair permed to have their hair glossy and straight and are rejected by the arrogant bunch that have went natural with their hair – all because the assumption is that the white people are out to wipe out the black people. My point? There is far more of a problem with black peoplehaving differing definitions of what being black is and holding their race to such a high standard. Yes, we should embrace who God created us to be, but there is a clear threshold to when one’s race becomes an idol – a clear breaking of God’s commandment. I’m biracial, black and japanese – an product of Dr. King’s true message of breaking down race barriers; however, this only secondary to what I truly an – a sinner saved by God’s grace by faith alone. My grandfather goes to a black church and he is far more racist than my white step father who hasn’t stepped into a church since his tweeness years. The message that many black churches are unbibilical, pushing racial issues. Christ was born a Jew and was doubted, persecuted and crucified by Jews. Where were his words on “all Jews unite”? Nowhere…. in fact, he clearly states that being born a Jew is not your ticket to get into Heaven. It is for this reason, not being Calvinist, that many holy hip hoppers do not take on the social justice issues based on race because the only social justice that needs yo be fought for, in the name of God, is man’s inherit nature to SIN. To further prove the point, Jesus was also born and raised in Nazareth, which people said that nothing good comes out of Nazareth. By all accounts, it was the ghetto of his time. But did Jesus say that all born in such a state would be saved? No, he said those who truly BELIEVED. So it doesn’t matter, black, white, rich, poor… there are only two people that exist in this life – the sinners going to Hell and the sinners who are saved by God through the blood of Christ. There is only one universal church, and though it is not displayed in perfection in this life because of sin, it does exist – color blind.

    The last point I wanted to make was the looking have on historical roots. There is no denying that slavery was an atrocity and will forever be part of American history, but one has to question the salvation of historical church leaders who clearly taught a false doctrine of racism. Though the Bible says only God can see a person’s heart and judge, there are safe assumptions that certain people who preached in the name of Jesus are probably in Hell – therefore, were never Christian to begin with. The point being that every person in church history cannot be lumped into one group that can be pointed at as being racist or Eurocentric. Some were, some weren’t… a church or theology viewpoint is (and always has been) subject to some level of corruption because we are all born sinners.

  • There is are many roads to understanding the Gospel, but the only true way is the Holy Spirit dwelling and working within you to give you the ability to answer God’s call. No amount of dressing it up will make one come to believe, if they were not of the elect. And trying to lure people in with a pretty bow will only lead them into false salvation – which is the story of the Pharisees – the men who knew the law, taught it and lived by it. Holy hip hop was created to preach to believer… those who have already answered the call and those whose heart is being broken to be avle to answer it.

  • Folks Hiphop is dead. What are we talking here? Pop culture is shifting back to Rock. So what are all these Hiphop evangelist going to do now? Convert to Rock. Think about it.

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  • […] Smith cautioned Holy Hip-Hop artists against depending solely on Reformation theology (which he wrote about in a blog post). Rather, he said, they need to draw upon other theologies that address the concerns of the […]

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  • Efrem have you written on this anymore? Have you had a chance to talk to leaders like LeCrae, Trip or Andy Mineo on the subject?

  • […] Where did all these Calvinists come from? (The Gospel Coalition; 23 October 2013)3. Efrem Smith. Holy Hip Hop and Calvinism: An Odd Marriage Indeed (10 May 2011)4. VIDEO: Andy Mineo – Kindness (YouTube; 26 November […]

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  • LOL!!

    I just looked up this article again, after all these years, and saw that someone called my comment that I wasn’t sure the Black church was dying “ignorant” and said I “must be white.”

    Wow, never saw that until now.

    I guess this article doesn’t exist then:


    Oh, and in case you were wonderings, Nicole Tucker, the author, is black. 😉

    Cheers! 😀

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