Posts filed under ‘Religion’
If you follow the Christian blog world, you’ll know that a recent panel of pastors George Bush’ed the button on the Christian rap discussion. By the response of some bloggers you’d think that Joel Beeke put a picture of Lacrae in a tutu on a Summer Jam screen. Others act like they’ve been appointed to bring rap to justice like some kind of the cultural five-O.
But let’s be clear, this isn’t the Big and Pac feud of the reformed evangelical world. The discussion that sparked this debate was incited by a group of men who have little familiarity with the story and function of rap as a legitimate genre of music. When a panelist hesitantly and almost apologetically (sheepishly, I might add) admits to having Toby Mac on his iPod, something isn’t right. I imagine that the underwhelming arguments of the panel will not cause too much ruckus in the Christian rap world. One might wonder why we haven’t ignored it all together.
Born and Raised in the Streets
Rap, just as its musical predecessors, was created as a form to serve a specific function. Since its birth in the 1970’s, rap has undergone a transformation in terms of its medium and primary message. However, rap as a musical form has always served to promote a civil function. Rap was born and raised to give a voice for the urban sentiment of a people who didn’t buy into or experience the suburban American ideal. For those that didn’t fit the American suburban mold, like drops of oil suspended in a glass of water, they coalesced, rap becoming the emulsifier that not only promoted a sense of community amongst all who rallied around this new form of self-expression, but also showcased their legitimate talent, abilities, and potential to an outside world content to ignore and avoid what they couldn’t understand. And by implication, rap artists have helped give a poetic and emotionally charged voice to a whole class of American citizenry. Art always imitates life. And rap serves as the intersection where rhythm is life and life is rhythm.
Rap music gives a window to the soul of American culture. Rap music also speaks in the language of many in American culture. As thoughtful Christians we should take notice of the themes and messages that resonate with millions of Americans – let me add, Americans from every ethnicity and socioeconomic background. This is part of our missionary call. It is because of the resonate power of rap that many Adidas have walked through concert doors and roamed over previously uninhabited concert floors. From a missional standpoint, the medium of rap music has served as another vehicle for the gospel message.
For Every Dark Night, There’s A Brighter Day
We can either retreat to our elitist Christian bubbles and take unintelligent shots from within or sift through Niebuhr’s categories (or Carson’s expanded categories) and think reflectively about Christ and culture. I’ll go with Niebuhr and Carson.
At the very least, I write this blog with more authority than the men on the panel. For a large period of my life I listened to secular rap and hip-hop music. So, my authority comes from actually knowing what rap music is. There is a dark side to this knowledge. The mnemonic power of rap has lodged rap lyrics deep into my mind. Still today, you can lay down an instrumental track from countless rap artists, and I can regrettably recall their Godless and often God cursing lyrics.
From experience I can tell you that most of non-Christian secular rap is full of vulgar and vain vernacular – a stark vision of depraved hearts. Not only do their lyrics leave one wondering if these rappers have been cursed with a curse to just curse, but the main message they’ve proclaimed is primarily about coming from the bottom of the bottom to the top of the top. For them, their justification in life is that they’ve made the change from a common thief to up close and personal with Robin Leach. Understandably, many onlookers wonder if the picture of the good life in secular rap is that of the artist formally known as Snoop Dog, laid back, with his mind on his money and his money on his mind. Even worse, the degradation of women in many secular rap songs reimage them as objects of sexual triumph.
In this ego-centric environment it’s understandable that rappers perpetually compete in a lyrical battle of king of the mountain. Sadly, they hypothetically (and sometimes literally) kill one another to grab everything the capitalist driven media promises can fill the deep voids in their lives. If anything, I can truly understand the hearts of these lost and hurting artists. They bleed on those albums. The reason so many people are drawn to their rap is that they too, have been cut in the same places. However, not all rap is the death rattle in the throat of a dying culture. Judging from the broad generalities made by the panelists, they seemed to make no distinction between secular and solid Christian rap.
What More Can I Say?
We cannot, as the panelists’ desire, snuff out rap music all together. While I have engaged in the ritual of throwing many of these secular albums in the Christian summer camp fire, I am not yet ready to pour out a bottle in memory of the entire genre. Rap music has its place. Sadly, some Christian rap functions like drug store cologne – kitschy mimesis of depraved and self-centered secular rap. However, not all rap is about drawing attention to the rapper. There are legitimately talented and God honoring Christian rap artists who use their distinctive voice to proclaim Christ. These brothers are not “disobedient cowards who have caved into the world” – as one panelist said.
So I raise my glass to the gospel proclaiming, doctrinally solid, and biblically literate rap artists that serve the church. Let the trunks rattle. And let the 16 bars point to the one true God of the universe. As for the medium and the message, Christ-exalting Christian rap is a breath of life in a culturally contextualized voice. I rejoice that Christian rap adds to our spiritual expression as the people of God.
For more, read Dr. Moore.
In correlation with the Winter Gospel Project adult and student study The Gospel Project team has lined up a great series of blog posts that will encourage you to dig deeper and reflect on some of the most important topics and issues facing Christians today.
- Why is it important to have a Christian worldview? By David Dockery
- How did we get the Bible and can we trust it? By Darrell Bock
- What is unique about Christianity among the world religions? By Jonathan Dodson
- What is the importance covenant marriage? By Tim Keller
- Isn’t Christianity intolerant? By Paul Copan
- What is our problem with hell? By Matt Capps
- How should we treat challenges to the Christian faith? By Gary Habermas
- Why is creation care important? By Russell Moore
- If God is good, why is there suffering? By Jeremy Evans
- What does the Bible teach about sex? By Clayton King
- Why does the resurrection really matter? By N. T. Wright
- Does life have meaning apart from God? By Andy Mclean
- How does one develop a Christian mind? By J. P. Moreland
- Is the unity of the Bible is evidence that it is God’s Word? By Adrian Rogers
I recently wrote an article for Explore God titled “A Deeper Look at What the Bible Says About Spiritual Growth”. Explore God is a website that publishes credible content for people with spiritual questions and curiosities. Here is the conclusion to my article.
Richard Lovelace aptly observed that “self knowledge and self-fulfillment are considered to be the core of human achievement” when it comes to spiritual growth in contemporary religious and mainstream spirituality.41 He added, “The search for these goals has produced a lot of people who are at best self-preoccupied and at worst obnoxiously self-assertive.”42 That is, many routes to spiritual growth generate nervous self-concern or overabundant spiritual pride. But this need not be so. An honest assessment of one’s spiritual state and attempts at spiritual growth will lead to an awareness of one’s limits. While there may be many different spiritual paths today, the Christian gospel offers a uniquely satisfying road to spiritual growth.
Because Christian spiritual growth is focused and dependent on God’s gracethrough Jesus Christ, the gospel allows one to avoid self-occupation and insufferable self-assertion. Christians may avoid nervousness and pride in spiritual growth by returning to the good news of Jesus—namely, that they are secure in their spiritual status before God based on Jesus’ work alone, not their own. The gospel is the true foundation of spiritual growth. Rooted firmly in the gospel, spiritual growth proceeds through the power of the Holy Spirit, directed by prayerful Bible reading within the context of a robust church community.
I encourage you to read the whole thing here.
Eric Geiger writes:
“Small groups in the life of a local church community are invaluable. This is why the writer of Hebrews admonished the early church to “…encourage each other daily, while it is still called today.” God uses community to supernaturally mature his people over time. He has designed us to grow together as a body. In many ways, Christian sanctification is a group project.
At LifeWay, we partner with pastors, writers, and ministry leaders to develop Bible studies for groups. In recent years, we have introduced or re-introduced ongoing Bible studies that are built around distinct starting points. While all of our studies are rooted in Scripture and focused on Christ, by clarifying unique group starting points we are able to bring greater focus to each line of studies.
For groups that want to start with real life issues and apply the Bible to those issues, we offer Bible Studies for Life. For groups who want to start with the text and walk through books of the Bible, we offer Explore the Bible. For groups that want to begin with theology to understand how the themes of Scripture fit together and point to Jesus, we offer The Gospel Project.
God has used the intentionality and focus to allow us to serve more groups/classes. While we have a great history at LifeWay, our ongoing Bible studies were on a 29-year decline. But in the last 18 months, the decline has turned. The Lord has been so good and gracious to us. We are honored to be serving groups/classes in churches around the world with trustworthy content.
If you are interested in The Gospel Project, we offer ongoing studies released every few months OR you can use the new small group study series. Regardless, The Gospel Project provides you with solid biblical theology along with missionally-driven application for your small group context.”
I recently wrote this blog post for The Gospel Project in a series on A God-Centered Worldview. You can see the whole series on A God-Centered Worldview here.
Where Did Hell Go?
We all know that one thing is for certain, all men die (Hebrews 9:27). While death is a certain reality, it is not something we regularly talk about with others. As for the topic of eternal destinies after death, those conversations are even more scarce. More specifically, consider the topic of hell. Who wants to talk about, even ponder, the reality of hell as portrayed in the Bible?
Not too long ago, I was traveling and decided to take a few books with me in preparation for writing this blog post. One of these volumes was a full book-length treatment on the topic of hell. I distinctly remember taking notable pause when reaching down into my bag in order to retrieve this book. The dust jacket not only had images of flames but also had the word “hell” in large embossed letters. In that moment I could imagine the thoughts of the other two passengers in the seats beside me if I began reading a book on eternal punishment as we were being hurled five hundred miles an hour through the air. Nothing says let’s have a delightful chat to those around you, or gives an indication as to where the conversation might go, like holding a book covered in images of hell fire.
Now, let me be clear. I believe in the reality of hell. The Bible is very clear on this issue. The point of my anecdote was simply to illustrate the palpable social stigma that is attached to this biblical doctrine in our post-Christian culture. It is a stigma that I am very aware of, as are many other Christians. It’s just not something we talk about. Notably, the reality of hell has been a fixture in Christian theology for over sixteen centuries, but at some point in the 1960’s hell disappeared. And more recently, the traditional view of the nature of hell has been challenged more than ever before.
What Is Hell According to the Bible?
Historically; Christians have held that after death, believers will either dwell with God in paradise, heaven, and eventually the new heavens and new earth or be cast out of God’s presence forever into a place called hell. Hell has been taught as involving eternal conscious torment of persons who have rejected the forgiveness of God through the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus. In the book Hell Under Fire;Christopher Morgan summarizes the three predominant pictures of hell we find in the New Testament.
- Punishment is the chief description of hell in the New Testament (Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Thess. 1:5-10; Rev. 20:10-15). Summarizing these passages; Morgan concludes that the punishment of hell is just, consists of suffering, is conscious, and is eternal.
- Destruction is also a central descriptor of hell in the Bible; in fact, this descriptor of hell is used by almost all of the New Testament writers (the exception seems to be Mark). In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; we find the most developed section of this theme, where Paul explains the eternal destruction of hell. For Paul, hell as destruction is best understood as utter loss, ruin, or waste.
- Banishment is the last central picture Morgan explores dealing with the difficult doctrine of hell. The picture of hell as banishment is also found in almost every New Testament book, with the exceptions of James and Hebrews. Banishment carries with it the connotation of separation, exclusion, or being left outside. Mark 9:42-48 provides a clear example as believers are welcomed into the kingdom of God and the wicked are banished outside of it.
In summary, punishment and destruction stress the active side of hell, while banishment stresses the horror of hell by highlighting what a person is excluded from. As we’ve already stated, secular thought and modern sentiment certainly make it hard to talk about the reality of hell. Moreover, while many Christians may hold to the historic convictions of the Christian faith, they find it very hard to align their emotional response to the doctrine of hell with the biblical teaching on it.
What Is Our Problem with Hell?
Perhaps some have trouble with the doctrine of hell emotionally because, deep down, we may find ourselves posing defensive questions in response. The question that hides under most questions regarding hell is “Isn’t hell unfair?”
In one sense this question is probably related to the judicial idea that people are innocent until proven guilty. True, if people are truly good and innocent; then God has no right to judge or punish. However, the apostle Paul said that no one is righteous; all are guilty in sin and without excuse before God (Romans 1:10, 3:10-11, 5:12). Russell Moore notes that hell is an affront to a non-Christians sense of justice, “…since no person except through the conviction of the Spirit deems himself worthy of condemnation.”
Another assumption behind this question is that people are neutral, generally good, or even innocent of God’s judgment. I don’t think it is a far stretch to assume that many non-Christians and ill-informed religious people assume that heaven is the common destination of humanity, except for the worst and most cruel humans: murders, pedophiles, genocidal dictators, etc. The broad assumption is that hell is only for other people, namely, people worse than I am. Again, the Bible is clear that all are guilty in sin (Isaiah 64:6). Simply put, no human stands on neutral ground when it comes to eternity.
Sadly, there is little talk about hell because too many people ignore the reality of sin or estimate they have too little sin. To put it bluntly, it would be just for God not to save one person from the depths of hell. This is where the good news of the cross deals with the “problem” of justice. On the cross of Christ, God makes it possible to justify sinners at the cost of His son and remain a just God. On the cross; Jesus took upon Himself what we deserved (death) and paid the penalty for our sin and through His resurrection; freely offers what we do not deserve (forgiveness and eternal life with God).
For this reason we need to be willing to tell the whole gospel story, even if it is uncomfortable. As Tim Keller has said, “there is an ecological balance to Scriptural truth that must not be disturbed.” To preach the good news, we must warn people of the bad. Keller argues that if we play down difficult doctrines; we will find, to our shock, that we have gutted all of our pleasant beliefs too.
For some people the doctrine of hell is extreme, and they are right. Hell is extreme because sin is extreme. However, Jesus Christ endured the hell of the cross so those who believe in Him might escape it. Michael Rogers rightly states that “Hell alarms us as nothing else can about the awful weight and penalty of sin.” The doctrine of hell should weigh heavy on the Christian heart as the Spirit leads us to plead with those who are without Christ. Hell is a horror to the Christian conscience. We shouldn’t deny the reality of hell, nor should we sheepishly avoid it. If anything, the doctrine of hell calls us to bold yet winsome evangelism. If modern sentiment, social tolerance, and relational indifference held the final votes about the doctrine of hell, the Bible’s view of hell surely would find few defenders.
Dr. Greg Beale (Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary) explains the discipline of biblical theology and why a preacher might want to make use of it.
Chuck Lawless recently wrote ten reasons why leaders should continue their education at Between The Times. Lawless serves as Dean of Graduate Studies and Professor of Evangelism and Missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
1. The Christian life is about growth. We are babies in Christ at new birth, yet called to continual growth and maturity (Heb. 5:12-14). Always, we are to be in the process of God’s conforming us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). If we reach the point of assuming we’ve “arrived” and need no further training, we are instead neglecting our Christian responsibility.
2. A willingness to learn is a sign of humility. Education is seldom easy. An openness to become a student again, to be held accountable for assignments, and to be evaluated by others is a sign of the kind of humility all leaders should exhibit. We need no more arrogant leaders, and the education process can sift out our pride.
3. We always face theological issues. The authority of the Word of God, especially when evaluated against sacred documents of other world faiths, continues to be an issue. We must increasingly defend the truth that a personal relationship with Jesus is the only way to God. The doctrine of the Trinity is at times an issue when evangelizing around the world. Continued education can help us be better prepared to respond to these types of significant issues.
4. We continue to confront new ethical and moral issues. When I started in ministry over thirty years ago, I did not imagine ministering in a culture that affirms same-sex marriage. Internet pornography was not even an option. Never did I envision ministering to Sally, who actually began life as Sam. Issues like these are not, of course, separated from our theology, and further education equips us to minister in this changing culture.
5. The people we lead are frequently still learning. At least in North America, we often minister to educated parishioners. They are teachers, engineers, physicians, and accountants. Many of our congregations include professionals for whom continued education is assumed, if not required. Thus, they recognize the value that continued training offers for their spiritual leaders.
6. Distance learning options allow us to continue education without leaving our ministry. Gone are the days when education required students to move to a campus. Today, the Internet offers unprecedented opportunities for continued training without evacuating significant ministries. Southeastern Seminary now offers masters and doctoral degrees – including the PhD – that do not require full-time residence in North Carolina. The relocation obstacle to continued education simply doesn’t exist anymore.
7. Learning within a group of peers is important. Many opportunities for advanced training include small group, peer-to-peer learning that focuses on particular aspects of leadership. Few educational options are as valuable as these. Each student brings his/her own knowledge to the classroom, helping to build a community of scholars. Peers become not only classmates, but also prayer partners. Education thus becomes not only content-based, but also life-on-life.
8. We often learn better after leadership experience. Learning apart from practical experience is not insignificant, but it risks becoming only theory rather than life application. Frankly, it’s easy to decide how to be a leader until you actually have to be one. The best students I know are those who leadership experience gives them a grid through which to evaluate concepts and programs. These students are those who choose to continue their education throughout their ministry.
9. The discipline of learning is important. Let’s be honest: even leaders sometimes get lazy. We rely solely on yesterday’s learning to face today’s issues. We talk more about what we have read than about what we are reading. Personal preparation for daily ministry becomes more surface review than intense study. Continued education, on the other hand, challenges us to return to rigor and discipline.
10. Continued education stretches our faith. The obstacles to further training are real. Too little time. Too few dollars. Too many years out of school. Too many other responsibilities. Too much risk of failure. Here’s the bottom line, though: sometimes we just have to trust God to help us do what He expects us to do.
A recent interview with Eugene Peterson by Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt was a refreshing view into the iconic pastor’s life. Here is a great quote by Peterson on the pastoral vocation:
“… Pastoring is not a very glamorous job. It’s a very taking-out-the-laundry and changing-the-diapers kind of job. And I think I would try to disabuse them of any romantic ideas of what it is. As a pastor, you’ve got to be willing to take people as they are. And live with them where they are. And not impose your will on them. Because God has different ways of being with people, and you don’t always know what they are.
The one thing I think is at the root of a lot of pastors’ restlessness and dissatisfaction is impatience. They think if they get the right system, the right programs, the right place, the right location, the right demographics, it’ll be a snap. And for some people it is: if you’re a good actor, if you have a big smile, if you are an extrovert. In some ways, a religious crowd is the easiest crowd to gather in the world. Our country’s full of examples of that. But for most, pastoring is a very ordinary way to live. And it is difficult in many ways because your time is not your own, for the most part, and the whole culture is against you. This consumer culture, people grow up determining what they want to do by what they can consume. And the Christian gospel is just quite the opposite of that. And people don’t know that. And pastors don’t know that when they start out. We’ve got a whole culture that is programmed to please people, telling them what they want. And if you do that, you might end up with a big church, but you won’t be a pastor.”
This is an unbelievably moving story testifying to the power of the gospel.
“Erik is a youth pastor. Matthew is a firefighter/EMT. They meet together every month to discuss what God is doing in their lives. But Erik wishes he’d met Matthew under different circumstances. You see, a few years ago after a long shift, Matthew fell asleep at the wheel and crashed head-on into a car carrying Erik’s pregnant wife and daughter. His wife and unborn son didn’t survive.”