Tim in San Diego, California, writes in to ask, “Pastor John, do you believe there’s a difference between a Christian rap artist and a rap artist who is a Christian? And do you believe that an artist, who is a Christian, needs to include the gospel in every song?”
Well, let’s start with that last question, because I think answering that one probably winds up addressing the concerns in the first one, which aren’t as easy to answer because the terms aren’t clear. But this one is: Does the gospel need to be in every song? And if you mean the full-enough doctrinal statement of the gospel so that the listener would have a reasonable understanding of the gospel and know how to come to Christ, the answer is “no.”
In Step with the Gospel
I say that because Paul accused Peter in Galatians 2:11–14 of a kind of behavior that was not in step with the gospel. So, there is the gospel, and there is life in step with the gospel. There is the gospel, and there is rap in step with the gospel. There is the gospel, and there is music in step with the gospel. There is the gospel, and there is advertising for your music group in step with the gospel. There is the gospel, and there is the clothing and the attitudes and the tone that is in step with the gospel.
“Is the message, the tone, the aim, the origin, the spirit in step with the gospel?”
A more biblical test for a rap song asks, “Is the message, the tone, the aim, the origin, the spirit in step with the gospel?” rather than, “Does it contain the four or five or six points or steps of the gospel?” If you tried to put a summary of the gospel in every song, it would start to sound stilted.
It would be like saying every chapter in the New Testament has to begin the way 1 Corinthians 15:1–3 begins: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel . . . that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Paul doesn’t begin every chapter like that. He expects that what he writes in that chapter will be in step with that, will unpack that, will apply that. But he doesn’t feel the need to begin every chapter with that. So, I think it should be with songs that Christians sing.
Boast in Christ
When Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” he did not mean that Christ crucified is mentioned in every chapter of his letters. When Paul said in Galatians 6:14, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he did not mean you can’t exalt in other things like the gifts of Christ or the people of Christ or the work of the saints of God in Christ. In both of those passages, I think he meant that in everything he said, everything he did, everything he sang — he would be aware. He would be aware that the good in everything, and the way everything bad is turned from good, was bought for him by Jesus Christ. Anything good that he experienced was bought for him by Jesus. Apart from Christ crucified, he would be hell-bound — and everything would be taking him there — but now because of Christ, everything is working for his good and God’s glory in his life. That’s what he always boasts in — that that is true in every situation.
“It shouldn’t take too long in listening to a Christian artist to know if he or she is blown away by the grace of God in the cross of Christ.”
It shouldn’t take too long in listening to a Christian artist like that to know if he or she is blown away by the grace of God in the cross of Christ. Their whole ministry should be pointing to the cross of Christ. You can call this person a Christian rap artist or a rap artist who is a Christian — I don’t think that matters. What matters is, Is every song in step with the gospel? Is the artist exulting at every moment in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in his heart, and are the words shaped by that, rooted in that, pointing to that, in one way or another so that the entire corpus of the artist’s work is going to point to Jesus and Jesus crucified?