Hip Hop and Calvinism….what’s the problem? Op-Ed to Pastor Efren Smith

I got a call from my cousin T.J. (aka Prayboy) after he read an article written by Holy Hip Hop Church pioneer and Co-Author 0f “The Hip Hop Church” Efren Smith written several months ago. After hearing Mr. Smiths article afresh I decided to write a direct response to it. The article is entitled ” Holy Hip Hop and Calvinism: An Odd Marriage Indeed” which to me is an announcement as to which direction Mr. Smith wants to take the reader.

His first premise is to defend his use of the term “odd marriage” referring to the current advancement of the Christian Hip Hop movement and it’s Calvinistic influence. This is of great interest to me considering my background as a D.J. and my interest in biblical theology. Mr. Smith’s statement ” Hip Hop influenced entirely by Calvinism is no Hip Hop at all” actual scores points with me on two fronts. First, this statement says that Holy Hip Hop has moved away from it’s pagan Hip Hop roots to become something entirely different much like the transformation of a souls from being dead in sin to being alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5) When we are born again we are to be in the world physically but move outside of it’s dictates and philosophy. Today’s Holy Hip Hop has done that thoroughly and convincingly. Secondly, to have Hip Hop under the influence of  Calvinism would be a giant leap forward for any music movement. In the landscape of current biblical scholarship Calvinistic theology is if nothing else “Gospelcentric”  and focused on the correct interpretation of the Holy scriptures. One may have some disagreement about a doctrinal position here or there but one thing that Calvinism delivers on 100 percent of the time and that is the presentation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

As the article continues I begin to take some serious issues with Pastor Smith as he delves into the issue of race. He says that Calvinism is Eurocentric in nature and has evolved into a theology driven by the “privileged.” This is a striking comment from a man who claims to be a student of the bible. Far from this division of race and theology, the scriptures encourages us to be in unity as believers (John 17:20-24, 1 Corinthians 1:10-13) Mr. Smith like many black preachers today seems to have a problem with congregations that have a strict adherence to scripture. This resistance to correct biblical interpretation and those who encourage it is why the black community is behind in it’s pursuit of theological precision.

As his piece continued Pastor Smith tries to paint a picture of what secular Hip Hop was in it’s infancy stating that it was “originally was about providing an artistic and social alternative to gang violence, drug dealing, prostitution, and other negative elements of urban culture.” I actually agree with this part of his assessment. But he then goes on to say “It was also about speaking truth to power. It was about poor urbanites feeling rejected by upwardly mobile people of color.” When Hip Hop father/pioneer Afrika Bambaataa created Hip Hop in the New York inner city in the 70’s, I doubt very seriously that he was thinking about “poor urbanites feeling rejected by upwardly mobile people of color.” Again Pastor Smith seems to be unusually focused on race and color in his assessments.

Mr. Smith then goes on to make the point that just as secular Hip Hop is being influenced by those outside the culture (another point I happen to agreed with him on) Holy Hip Hop is being propelled by Calvinism namely John Piper, citing his lack of understanding of Hip Hop culture. My response is are we to shape our message to fit the culture or is the culture to bend to the message? Again it seems as if Pastor Smith has missed the point of Christians reaching the culture.

Then Pastor Smith goes on to drop a bomb stating that Piper had never consulted him or his Holy Hip Hop cohorts Phil Jackson or Daniel Hodge because they have been labeled “Hip Hop Theologians.” So what? Does that make them Holy Hip Hop gods or something? It is quite arrogant and presumptuous for Smith to assume they he and his team must be consulted by anyone who wants to reach the Hip Hop culture for Christ. I find it strange that the leading of the Holy Spirit, a clear gospel message and godly direction are sorely lacking from Smith’s plan to take the hood for Jesus.

Smith’s comedy of errors continues with his assertion that Holy Hip Hop artists need to glean form Theologians such as MLK and James Cone. As rich as Martin Luther King’s legacy is I believe most would stop short of calling him a theologian. King was a believer if social justice, economic equality, and freedom for all men. While these are all noble causes it is a stretch to say that there is broad based support for them in the bible as well as calling King a theologian. While possessing supreme oratory skills and good knowledge of scripture King was not an expositor of scripture. He often used scripture as a launch pad to get to the social issues of his day. Smith’s rush to put King in the theologian category falls flat by itself with no help from anyone.

The final nail in the coffin sinking Smith’s literary piece into the dust of death is his calling of Holy hip Hop artists to aspire to the theology of James Cone. Dr. James Cone is the man most responsible for what we know today as Black Liberation Theology. In his video “A Conversation with James Cone” Mr. Cone tells how he wanted to merge the philosophies of MLK and Malcolm X to create a theology that would address his “blackness.” It is almost goes without saying that this very concept in itself is a violation of everything that God and the bible stands for. I might add that the concept of Black Liberation Theology is an abject failure in the black community because it has not produce even one liberated black person due to it’s teaching. Black Liberation Theology produces people who have a racist view of scripture, turn Jesus into a black man, and turn Christians into angry, biblically illiterate, shallow people who count emotion as the ultimate Christian experience. In fact secular rap artists do use this idea and look at their contribution to our society.

In summary Effren Smith has joined the ranks of many black preachers who see Calvinist teaching as a threat to their power base. One thing about Calvinists is they ride or die on the sufficiency of scripture with no gimmicks or games. We are in a time when many brothers and sisters in the black community have lost faith in their churches and pastors due to the lack of substantive bible teaching. For decades the black community has been fed a steady diet of emotion, bad exegesis and word of faith heresy that has produced a generation of sick and dying Christians. But there is also a revolution taking place within the black community as well. There is a stirring up of the spirit in preachers such as Voddie Baucham and  artists such as Lecrae and Shai Linne who are moving the conversation about God back where it belongs in the realm of theology.

The battle to win the souls of those in Hip Hop culture is not to be won on the basis of what the culture wants it is to be won by the proclamation of the true gospel. God by his sovereignty has raised up the Holy Hip Hop movement through the vehicle of Calvinism not based on its knowledge of Hip Hop customs and traditions but based on its knowledge of the gospel. When you hear the artists who claim Calvinism the one thing that rings through loud and clear  is the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and him alone. It is this message that must be sang, rapped and taught in our neighborhoods if we are to bring life to souls dead in sin in the black community. Culture like all other vehicles and methods of evangelism must take a back seat to the central message of scripture…the Gospel!


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