Critiquing the Culture: Gospel or Preferences?

In Dr. Bruce Ashford’s excellent book, The Theology of Mission, he writes, “We must remember that the gospel stands in judgment of all cultures, calling them to conform themselves to the image of Christ.” He goes on to say that, “The gospel does not condemn all of a culture, but is always and at the same time both affirming and rejoicing.” If this is true of the gospel’s interaction with culture, and I believe it is, then it stands to reason that this should also be the individual believer’s interaction with culture, as well.

As I have thought through these words I have thought about how I critique the culture myself. Further, I have considered how I have witnessed believers in my context critique the culture. I am afraid that, by and large, believers critique the culture based on their own preferences much more often than allowing the gospel to offer the critique.

I’ve written a lot about music lately, so let’s use that as an example. Most people understand the term ‘Worship Wars,’ which describes the debate that has raged in certain church circles for years now, centering upon styles of music used in corporate worship services. Some prefer traditional music, highlighted by the use of hymns and ‘traditional’ instruments like piano and organ. Others prefer more ‘contemporary’ choruses and songs that incorporate non-traditional instruments like guitars and drums. Now, I agree that churches should carefully develop their worship services and that conversations should take place as to how that is developed. But, the shape of these conversations, especially when they have the operative word preference as their foundation, is silly at best and unbiblical and divisive at worst. Can one truly say from a biblical standpoint that there are certain genres of music that Christians should have no part of, or that have no place in “worship” or “Christian” music, or is this just the espousing of a personal preference? Such debates have permeated, I’m afraid, into the way many believers view music within the greater landscape of our culture.  Let me offer a great, relevant example.

There is an incredible movement taking place within the context of hip-hop music as of late. In fact, if someone were to ask me to share the most biblically-sound lyrics on my iPhone right now, I would point them to several hip-hop/rap albums! Artists like Lecrae, Shai Linne, Flame, Beautiful Eulogy, Andy Mineo, Tripp Lee and others have developed a passion for redeeming that genre of music by offering God-exalting music to a specific sub-section of the culture. Many of these artists are even seminary-trained, concerned that the music they produce is not only excellent in form, but also in content.

I have heard many Christians denounce certain genres of music, such as hip-hop/rap, even calling them ‘satanic,’ ‘godless,’ or ‘evil.’ But, are those critiques gospel-driven, or simply matters of preference? Well, what does the gospel have to say about it? For artists like Lecrae, they see absolutely no prohibition for a specific genre of music from the Scriptures. I would agree. In fact, the Psalms speak of singing a ‘new song’ to The Lord! Is not Jesus Lord of all and all areas of his creation? Are not all genres of music just a beautiful display of the diverse creativity of God imaged through his creation? One of my favorite quotes comes from Abraham Kuyper, in which he asserts, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our existence over which Christ does not cry: ‘Mine!'”  Are not all genres of music included in “the whole domain of our existence?”  We need a serious revival in our understanding of the Lordship of Christ, especially in the way we view our culture!

What the Bible very clearly condemns as sinful, though, makes up a lot of the content that has classically made up this genre of music. This tells me that the problem that some have with this genre, or sound, of music is one of preference and stereotype, not of biblical substance. Hip-Hop as a form of music is not inherently sinful, however most of what Hip Hip has produced is direction-ally sinful. This is why I am so very thankful for these brothers who are seeking to redeem the direction of that specific genre in order to proclaim the excellencies of Christ and his gospel, especially in its ability to relate to a specific sub-section of the culture that the average church would struggle to reach!  I am thankful that they are striving to produce excellent art, as opposed to offering a cheap Christian knock-off, that seeks to make much of God and his glory through well-produced and meaningful substance.

These Christian artists show a desire to contextualize the gospel using a biblically neutral vehicle, like a genre of music, by redeeming what really matters…the content. This is a beautiful picture of how the gospel critiques a certain aspect of culture. What we do when we critique the culture through our preferences, though, is we limit the ability to contextualize the gospel for all people and in all areas of life.

So, what are some aspects of the culture other than music that we can use in this discussion? As I think through others I will continue to offer my thoughts about this topic here. In the meantime, what are some other areas that you have been guilty of critiquing based on preference rather than gospel? I have been guilty of several areas just in thinking through this blog post!

In the meantime, take a few minutes to listen to Shai Linne’s new song.  A rap song about the Hypostatic Union!?  What??  From his album…and listen to this title…Lyrical Theology!

One more, this time from a group called Beautiful Eulogy.  This is their just-released first single from their upcoming album Instruments of Mercy, called “Vital Lens.”  Listen to how they share in the song about the mission that drives their creativity through music/art!  Awesome.

I Married my bride, Erin, in 2003. We have 3 children: Emma, Elijah, and Lydia. I have served full-time on staff at Westwood Baptist Church, in Roxboro, NC, since summer of 2006 as Pastor of Students & Discipleship. I am currently enrolled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, pursuing my Doctorate of Education.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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