I was intrigued with a recent story in the Charleston Post and Courier entitled "Hip Hop Gospel." The article covers recent moves in some churches to include "hip hop gospel" selections in their services in an effort to reach young people. The article even opens with one vignette where high schoolers who sing in a church's traditional choir have added to their routines a dance move called "the motorcycle" popularized by an Atlanta rapper.
The question is, "Is this appropriate and God-glorifying for public gatherings of the church?" As far as listening pleasure and personal consumption are concerned, I'm a big fan of Timothy Brindle, Shai Linne, and some others. Outreach is one thing, but should this be included in the services of the church, the public gathering of Christians?
The arguments for this trend are all the same: "We've got to reach out to youth with a style they understand." "The church needs to be brought into this century." "Paul became all things to all people." "It's really about the message."
What is often missing in those refrains is the fact that very often the method and the message are more synonymous than one might first recognize. The desire to reach people is worthy and good -- it's the great commission. But the "hip hop gospel" method (and many others) assumes that we must reach them by entertaining them. Consequently, the world is filled with churches that expend inordinate time, money, and talent in creating an "exciting" and "entertaining" experience for weekly attenders whose knowlege of God remains shallow and man-centered.
Postman is still prophetic... we're amusing ourselves to death. Only now, we're being lead by the secular tastes of our children rather than leading our children by doing the God-centered work of Deut. 6:1-9. Does anyone think it absurd that pubescent posing, posturing, and play define how we worship the supreme Lord of the universe? Doesn't anyone remember that offering strange fire has deadly consequences? Inevitably, whenever there is this kind of mingling of God's people with the world, it is the church that is corrupted (Haggai 2:11-14).
What we need is to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). And to do that, we must have our worship regulated by the Word of God. What we sing, pray, and preach must be governed by the Scriptures. We should do those things warranted in the Bible and refuse to do those things prohibited in the Bible. After all, our task is not to be "attractive" but to be faithful (I Cor. 4:2).
The lamentable reality is that the gospel of Jesus Christ come in the flesh, crucified for sinners, buried and raised three days later, requiring repentance from sin and faith in the Son, to the glory of the Father has been missing in much of "gospel" music for quite a long time. Appending "hip hop" only makes it clearer that another gospel is at work. One proponent of adding hip hop gospel to church practice said: "People my age and younger are hooked on R&B and rap. We want to incorporate that, the beats, the rhythms, but we want to keep the (gospel) message." Christians are to be "hooked on" Jesus, despising the world. And certainly we should be suspicious when the article writer has to insert "gospel" in parenthesis to make it clear just what message is being referred to. My sneaking suspicion is that the interviewee wouldn't be able to define the gospel with any precision. And we don't want our children to be unable to recognize Jesus because they've associated the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lamb who was slain with baggy jeans and tee-shirt sporting, tattooed, do-rag wearing rappers.
A final thought:
It would be better to lose a generation of young people and remain faithful to God, than to be attractive by adopting worldly forms and elements in worship and obscure the only soul-saving, life-giving, new-heart-creating, eternal-destiny-changing, repentance-and-faith-demanding, God-glorifying gospel of Jesus Christ.
Three Book Recommendations for Thinking About Worship:
Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W.H. Thomas, and J. Ligon Duncan III (Eds.), Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (P&R)
D.A. Carson (ed.), Worship by the Book (Zondervan) - see especially Carson's introductory essay, which alone is worth the price of the book.
David Peterson, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (IVP)