Here is the sermon that I preached at our church, The Fellowship at Two Rivers in Nashville TN on Sunday, December 29th.
One of the stars of Duck Dynasty has been suspended by the A&E Network following his recent comments on homosexuality. In a culture that values freedom of speech and religious liberty, this news is somewhat ironic. I’ll admit, Phil Robertson did not use the greater part of wisdom in how he said what he said. I would have nuanced the words just a little. However, the belief that homosexuality is sinful and that marriage is a covenant institution between and man and a woman is the historical Christian viewpoint. For our culture this is a problem.
As Christians we should not be surprised by this situation. There is no Christian moral majority in America. Moreover, we should not expect those outside the Church to agree with (or even understand) our views on marriage. How then shall we respond? Well, here are a few thoughtful posts that help us do just that.
- Duck Dynasty? – Russell Moore
- Duck Dynasty Star Fired Over Remarks on Homosexuality – Joe Carter
- Are there any LGBT community members who support free speech? – Marty Duren
- Why Suspending Phil Robertson Will Backfire – Trevin Wax
- You Have Been Warned—The “Duck Dynasty” Controversy – Albert Mohler
- PHIL ROBERTSON AND CHRISTIAN DISSENT – Micah Fries
- “Duck Dynasty”: Let’s Deal in Real Reality – Jared Wilson
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.
Why is planning your preaching important?
Sunday comes every week, which is 52 times a year. Preaching pastors know that one of the inevitable realities of ministry is that sermon preparation cannot be postponed. For this reason it is particularly important to plan a preaching schedule. While determining a preaching strategy requires thought and energy, it also allows you to organize and use their time more efficiently in weekly sermon preparation. When the schedule is set one doesn’t have to carry the weight of “what’s next?” from week to week. Taking time to plan extended pulpit work can provide the parameters you needs to prepare and preach more effectively. I tend to agree with Spurgeon who argued that habitually entering “… into the pulpit unprepared is unpardonable presumption (Lectures to My Students).”
I’ve heard some contend that planning a preaching schedule in advance could squelch the Holy Spirit. Their argument assumes that the Holy Spirit will only move “in the moment.” Mark Dever rightly opposes this assumption by writing that “… of course He does that sometimes [moves in the moment], but that’s not the only way He does it. The Holy Spirit also moves and directs months in advance when planning a preaching schedule (Preach: Theology Meets Practice).”
What is your plan for the winter?
There are many ways to approach series preparation. One is that you work through a book of the Bible and move chapter by chapter through that book, like “A Walk through Exodus.” Another is that you work systematically through a section of a book, like a series on “The Sermon on the Mount.” Or you can develop a series of sermons dealing with a particular topic or aspect of the Christian life and living. Let me first state that I am not a proponent of topical expository preaching, however I do think it has its place in preaching. One doesn’t want the felt needs of the congregation to drive the preaching schedule. John Stott once wrote, “… if we become exclusively preoccupied with answering the questions people are asking, we may overlook the fact that many of them often ask the wrong questions and need to be helped to ask the right ones (Between Two Worlds).”
With that said, it is important to address personal and cultural issues head on once and a while. Sermons ought to come from Scriptural texts, and it is important to answer cultural questions directly from a biblical framework. Honestly, developing a series on particular topics can be the most time consuming method of series planning. However, one approach to developing a topical series is to adapt an outline from a book or some other resource.
A Proposal for Preaching “A God-Centered Worldview”
As the brand manager of The Gospel Project I am going to unashamedly encourage you to consider developing a series of sermons to coincide with the adult and student winter study of The Gospel Project: A God-Centered Worldview (Also see Leader Guide).
The first reason I propose this sermon series is that preaching alongside a curriculum sequence not only aligns preaching to small groups, it also allows the preachers to encourage small group participation, and permits for more thoughtful group discussion following the sermon since all of the participants have read about the topic. As for The Gospel Project’s winter study for adults and students, the units are broken up so that one can actually develop three series from the curriculum with four to five sermons in each. Here are some of the topics covered in The Gospel Projectwinter study. I have adapted the lesson titles to be sermon titles as if I were going to preach them myself.
A Biblical Worldview
- Does Having a Christian Worldview Matter? (Romans 12:1-2)
- What is the Difference Between Man-Centered vs. God-Centered Living? (Exodus 33:19-23, 34:5-9; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18)
- How Did We Get the Bible? (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
- Can We Trust the Bible? (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 2:1-3, 3:23-38)
- Is Christianity Is Unique Among the Religions? (John 14:1-11)
The Big Questions
- Does Life Have Meaning Without God? (Ecclesiastes 3:16-20, 4:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
- Is The God of The Bible a Good God? (Deuteronomy 7:1-5; Matthew 15:21-28)
- Why Do We Suffer? (Job 1:20-22; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; James 1:24)
- Is Hell Real or Necessary? (Exodus 9:13-17; Luke 16:19-31; Romans 10:11-17)
The Big Debates
- What is God’s View of Sex? (Genesis 2:8-9, 15-25; Luke 5:29-32; Romans 1:21-28)
- What is God’s View of Marriage? (Matthew 19:1-9; 1 Corinthians 7:1-9; Ephesians 5:22-33)
- Is Human Life Sacred? (Genesis 9:5-6; Jeremiah 1:5; Acts 22:1-5)
- Should We Care for Others and the World? (Genesis 9:8-17; Matthew 6:19-21, 24; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4)
The Preaching Plan as Evangelism and Discipleship Tool
The second reason I encourage you to consider adopting this preaching plan is that this particular study lends itself well to be used in evangelistic conversations and for directional discipleship. If you commit to this plan it enables you to publish a preaching schedule for your church in advance. A preaching schedule not only allows your people to read in advance, it also allows the Holy Spirit to begin working in their hearts beforehand. Therefore, the people gather with their own questions and insights, allowing for greater listening.
The preaching plan can also be used as a tool allowing your church members the opportunity to begin spiritual conversations on these topics with their family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. If they have a non-Christian friend who might be interested to hear about a particular topic a natural invitation can be issued. As LifeWay Research has shown us, 67 percent of Americans say a personal invitation from a family member would be very or somewhat effective in getting them to visit a church. Also, 56 percent of Americans say a personal invitation from a friend or neighbor would be very or somewhat effective in getting them to visit a church. With provocative topics such as the ones listed above, I can only imagine that these statistics would be even higher.
Equip Your Church to Thoughtfully Engage the Public Square
The third reason I encourage you to consider adapting The Gospel Project lesson sequence for the winter is to train your church to thoughtfully engage the public square. In the last decade we have seen massive shifts in our culture, and not all Christians are equipped to respond to these changes form a particularly Christian perspective. A Christian worldview, perhaps its more precise to say a theistic worldview, could have been assumed 50 years ago, but that is not the case anymore. What was once culturally accepted is now rejected and even labeled as intolerant.
When asked how he prepared a Sunday sermon Karl Barth once said, “I take the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other.” Considering the content of today’s news, this quote is more timely than ever before. How would the members of your church engage the big questions and big debates of our time? Our churches need to be full of people who are grounded in the foundational doctrines that shape our identity as Christ followers. As Ed Stetzer argues in his editorial introduction to the winter material, “The big questions and big debates of our day find their answers not in the shifting views of the culture but in the steadfast, unchanging word of God.”