“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger.” (Judges 2:10-11, NASB)
As I’ve been studying the book of Judges lately in the Old Testament, it’s hard for me not to think of the Hip Hop generation of which I am apart. I also think about the generation that we have produced, which I will call for now, the Rap generation. For those of you who are not African-American, Hispanic, Asian American, or come from an urban background do not make the mistake of ending your reading here. Hip Hop culture and rap music have a global influence on all of youth and young adult culture today. Though the church is in denial about this to a large degree, the corporate music industry is not. Even churches that don’t deny this primarily see Hip Hop and rap as the enemy of the church. Let me go back to Judges and then I will work my way to the connection with Hip Hop and rap.
The book of Judges is about a people disconnected from their heritage and their God. The initial chapters of Judges shows us a younger generation who do evil because they have no sense of the God who brought them out of Egypt and delivered them into the promised land. Out of this ignorance they become an idolatrous people, serving the gods of the people around them. What is very interesting to me is that we see a cycle within Judges. The younger generation does evil in the eyes of the Lord, the LORD sells them (or allows them to be sold) into slavery and oppression, and then delivers them through Judges when they cry out to the LORD for help. If only they would desire a knowledge of their heritage and a covenant relationship with God, they would not have to live within this cycle. Why doesn’t the older generation take greater responsibility for making sure their younger generation knows their history that they might stay in covenant relationship with God?
My generation has not taken the type of responsibility needed with the youth and young adults below us. You could also argue that the generation above me made the same mistake. The tiredness of promises unfilled during the Civil Rights movement caused many African-Americans above me and with me to give into individualism and consumerism. If I gain enough stuff, at least I can become apart of that smaller group of African-Americans that made it.
I must say that I’m very concerned that too many African-American and urban churches have not seen the value of having a full-time pastor to children and youth on their staff. This is a key strategy to reaching a rap generation influenced by the gods of others pursuing them daily. Will senior pastors be willing to sacrifice some luxury in order to have a staff person and a comprehensive strategy for the younger generation enslaved by commercial rap music? Michelle Alexander in her book,” The New Jim Crow” does a great job in connecting commercial rap music and the mass incarceration of African-American males. She also wonders why this issue isn’t a top priority of civil rights organizations. I wonder why it isn’t a top priority of the church.
Commercial rap music today is full of idolatry and mainly is about serving the gods of the people around them. These people around them are corporate heads that are mainly European-Americans who have no interest in the health of the African-American and urban community. They are using the worst of this community to sell a product to a suburban community. I believe that if the African-American and urban church would take responsibility for its own enslavement to idolatry today, we could reach a younger generation that does not know the LORD or the work He has done to deliver African-Americans out of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.
Last week I had the honor of speaking on main stage at the Ichthus Music Festival. I spoke right after a very powerful performance by Holy Hip Hop artist LaCrae. Earlier that day I was on a panel with LaCrae, Trip Lee, and Pro speaking on the influence of Hip Hop and Urban Culture on all of youth culture today. These artists are all apart of Reach Records. Some of you may remember a post I did not long ago on the “Odd Marriage Between Holy Hip Hop and Calvinism.”
In this post I shared my concerns about Holy Hip Hop being dominated by Calvinist theology without the balance of Reconciliation theology, Liberation theology, and Black theology rooted in the history of the Black Church. My point was not to say that Calvinism has no place in Holy Hip Hop, but to say that Calvinism alone makes Holy Hip Hop no Hip Hop at all and limits its ability to be a true transformational and evangelistic force in urban America and beyond.
First let me make one more point about my concerns on a Holy Hip Hop movement dominated by Calvinism. Calvinist theologians and pastors have not fully dealt with a theology that has ties historically to the economic structure of capitalism, the replacement theology connected to colonialism, and the unbiblical development of the race structure and imagination dealt with by theologians such as Willie James Jennings (The Christian Imagination) and J. Kameron Carter (Race: A Theological Account). What this means is that historically, Calvinism has had moments when it was not on the side of the liberation of African-Americans, especially during slavery and Jim Crow segregation. This does not mean that there weren’t some Calvinists that would have been against slavery or on the side of the Civil Rights Movement. We can say though, that evangelicals must own a sketchy history at best around issues of race. We’ve truly come a long way, but we haven’t yet arrived as a truly reconciled people. This is why the Reconciliation theology of Tom Skinner, John Perkins, Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Brenda Salter-McNeil, and Curtiss DeYoung is needed within the Holy Hip Hop Movement.
With all that said, I need to give much love to the Ministry of Reach Records. I especially need to show much love to LaCrae. As I sat on the panel of with the artists of Reach Records and witnessed the ministry of LaCrae on stage, I was moved by his gifts, character, and theological depth. I’m also honored that these artists have so much respect for me and my contributions to the Holy Hip Hop Movement. My last post on this subject was in no way meant to dishonor these artists. My heart is to serve as a Hip Hop theologian and to see this movement have a significant Kingdom impact in Urban America and beyond. I pray for LaCrae and the ministry of Reach Records that God would bless them in a mighty way.
I introduce Post-Black Theology around the thesis that, there are theologies and ministry practices coming out of the Black Church in the United States of America that can be a gift from God to the whole body of Christ.
In an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality, the church in the United States of America is in decline and in crisis. Part of this crisis situation is that the church in the US is in captivity to modernity, a Eurocentric theology presented as normative theology, and the social construct of race.
A few years ago, I heard a European-American, evangelical denominational leader state that African-American ministers were the best positioned to lead evangelical, multi-ethnic, and missional churches. It was this statement that led to the explosion of the Post-Black theology within me. It is important for me to state that a Post-Black theology doesn’t call for the ending of the Black Church or Black Theology. It actually gives honor to the Black Church and Black Theology. It takes them out of the second-class citizenship and the marginalization that both the evangelical and mainline church traditions has placed upon them. I am a product of the Black Church and Black Theology. I even owe my ability to serve as a regional superintendent of a evangelical denomination to how God development me within the Black Church.
Post-Black Theology is a powerful, Spirit-led force for the development of Christ-centered, multi-ethnic, and missional ministry. One of the reasons for this is that successful African-American leaders have to learn to be bi-cultural and multi-ethnic in their thinking and social navigating. I know how to lead, communicate, and relate in various ethnic and racial circles. This makes me a Post-Black leader, but it does not dimmish my African-American identity. In other words, you don’t have to sellout to be a Post-Black leader, pastor, or theologian.
There are three theological streams which fuel Post-Black theology. One is Black Liberation Theology. This theological stream is focused on seeing the biblical mandates for addressing racism, oppression, and injustice. This stream also is about understanding that as Jesus walked the earth, liberation was a major act of His Kingdom proclaiming and performing mission. The words of Jesus in Luke 4 and Matthew 25 are helpful in understanding this stream. Jesus identifies with the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. You can’t separate salvation from liberation and justice. One pioneer of this stream is Dr. James Cone.
Another stream is Reconciliation Theology. This is about connecting the reconciling of people groups at odds with the significance of being reconciled to God thru Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ there is liberation, transformation, and a greater understanding of new life when enemies or those separated become brothers and sisters. Dr. John Perkins, one of the pioneers of this stream, developed the “3R’s”, of reconciliation, relocation, and redistribution. This triune strategy is about an incarnational and community development approach to evangelism and outreach.
The third stream is Missional Theology or a missional ecclesiology. This stream, though not introduced by African-American theologians and practitioners, is in need of African-American and other ethnic voices in order to truly have an impact in the present multi-ethnic and multicultural reality. Pastor Phil Jackson and myself attempted this in our book, The Hip Hop Church. Dr. Dan Hodges does this as well in his book, The Soul of Hip Hop. To me, an authentic Missional Theology is about theology, ministry models, and leadership development which equips the church to engage todays cultural realities for Kingdom advancement.
These are the three theological streams that I present to make up the development of a Post-Black Theology. From time to time I will offer more on this emerging theology.
Post-Black Theology is rooted in the thesis that there are theologies and best-practice models that have come out of the Black Church in America and Africa that are meant from God to be a gift to the whole church. You can’t present Post-Black Theology though without first dealing with Black Theology.
Black theology is a theology for Black people. Black theology is about a biblical understanding that God, thru Jesus, identifies with the historical suffering and current social disparities facing Black people. Theologian James Cone and Religious and African-American Studies Scholar, Cornell West are the pioneers of Black Liberation Theology. Black Liberation Theology has connections to Liberation Theology coming out of Latin America. Black Liberation Theology has not been fully received within evangelicalism because one, it’s focused on God identifying with the conditions facing Black people and two, it has elements which seem more rooted in marxism and humanism than Scripture. South African theologian Allan Boesak has offered a version of Black Liberation Theology that is more palatable for evangelical tastes.
Post-Black Theology, though not labeled that, begins with African-American theologians and organic scholars such as Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., Tom Skinner, and John Perkins. Thru these leaders we find the foundation of Reconciliation Theology. Reconciliation Theology is about the redemption, liberation, and reconciliation of both the oppressed and the oppressor. Black Liberation theology is primarily about the oppressed, with little or no focus on the transformation of the oppressor.
Post-Black theology also includes a more authentic missional ecclesiology. The Black Church has been a missional church since its inception. The Civil Rights Movement is both a missional and emergent movement before European-American pastors and theologians began the discussion. Hip Hop culture today is both a Post-Black movement and the most visible sign of post-modernism. Because it is a movement of urban African-American, Asian, and Hispanic youth, it is marginalized by the dominant culture. If the church in the United States is truly going to be missional it must learn to advance the Kingdom of God in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic, multicultural, urban, global, technological, and hip hop reality.
The Black Church is missional because it has also been engaging culture for justice and transformation as well as being a development center for the empowerment of African-Americans to become Post-Black leaders. If not for the Black Church influence on some level, there would be no Post-Black leaders such as President Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, or Tony Dungy. Whether in their generation, their parents, or grandparents, the Black Church had influence.
I will spend time in future posts breaking down further Post-Black Theology. Stay tuned and I would love your thoughts.
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.
I am honored to be featured in this publication of Duke Divinity School. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Wow, I can’t believe it been over a week since I posted a blog. That’s way too long and I’ll work to make sure that doesn’t happen again I was blessed and humbled to be able to speak last week at Willow Creek’s Arts and Worship Conference. I spoke on the title, The Wonder of Beloved Worship. Using 1 John 3 as my main text, I shared about, a leading worship from the identity of the beloved verses the broken.
As I prepared for this message, I reflected a lot on art, worship, identity, and transformation. Before I accepted a call into ministry, I had dreams of becoming an actor and a singer. I was in a performing arts program in high school and majored in theater in college at Saint John’s University in Central Minnesota. It was during my senior year in college that I sensed a call into ministry, which led to my going to Luther Seminary to receive a Master of Arts degree in Theology.
Today as a pastor, I still feel that I’m an artist. I use comedy, story-telling, and singing in my preaching. As an African-American, I’ve been raised that preaching is an art form as influenced by the Black Church tradition. Leading a multicultural congregation that desires to engage culture for Kingdom purposes, has allowed me to connect my passion as an artist with one for theology as well. I believe that it is important for the church to equip and empower artists within the experience of corporate worship. One of the ways we do this at Sanctuary Covenant Church is through a monthly Hip Hop worship experience. I’m excited about spoken-word artist, break-dancers, rappers, and deejays being apart of a church worship experience.
Many artists outside of the church are using their gifts out of brokenness. There is a great opportunity through the church to also equip artists through Christian formation to use their gifts out of the identity of being God’s beloved. Beloved worship is about artists using their gifts as an extension and expression of God’s love that lives might be transformed. Worship in this way can be a liberating and Kingdom advancing movement.
I’m excited to have this opportunity to share my thoughts and theology on issues ranging from reconciliation and justice to spiritual growth and hip hop. I hope you keep coming back and I invite you to wrestle with me in how to ignite a Kingdom advancing movement in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world!