Calvinism and Holy Hip Hop, Part I By T.C.

Moore Introduction: Having been born in 1982, I grew up during the birth of so-called 'Gangster Rap.' In fact, the first album I ever owned was Ghetto Jam by Domino. (It was a cassette tape. Remember those?) And the first album I anticipated buying months in advance, waited in line to buy the moment the record store opened (this was before iTunes), was Snoop's first album: Doggystyle. Though I was a poor white kid living in a trailer park (before Eminem made it cool), I identified closely with hip hop culture. I listened to 'underground' hip hop none of my friends knew about. I was one of the only taggers in my Central Illinois neighborhood imitating subway bombers in New York. I say all this to say, while I may not be a hip hop expert, for better or for worse, I'm definitely a product and representation of hip hop culture. Fast forward to my Christ-encounter circa March 1999. While I didn't throw out my hoodies, sneakers, or baggy jeans, my new relationship with Jesus made me very sensitive to anything that glorified sin. I could no longer stomach music that tempted me to fantasize about revenge or fornication. I could no longer glorify gangsterism when my Saviour commands me to love my enemies. I could no longer glorify pimping when in my Lord's body I have so many sisters. For a long time, hip hop music remained a sacrifice I placed at the altar in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Yes, I heard there was such a thing as 'Christian Rap,' but honestly I wasn't impressed. I did not think I needed to lie to myself and pretend this music was of the same quality as the hip hop I had listened to in the past. I preferred to put it all aside and move on. One artist did give me a glimmer of hope. The first Christian hip hop album I considered worthy of my $10 (albums were sold in stores back then on physical discs for $10) was The Missin' Element by Urban Disciple. I was impressed mostly by this Christian artist's recognition of true hip hop culture. Unlike other Christian artists who claimed to be hip-hoppers, Urban D identified not just with the music, but also with b-boying and graffiti art. He knew the roots of hip hop and was proud of them. After that, I found several other hip hop artists who were also Christians that I found worthy of my ear and money. The Cross Movement is a group that is another example. The lyrical prowess of artists in this group such as The Ambassador was impressive. Not to mention the lyrics were potent and theologically rich. This brings me to the present topic of Calvinism in holy hip hop.

Copyright, T.C. Moore. 2009.

For years now I have put off addressing this phenomenon, but no more. It is no secret that holy hip hop is now dominated by Calvinist theology, and honestly I'm concerned about the effect this will have on the generation listening. Artists like The Ambassador are incredibly gifted by God and I am confident they are having a powerful impact on people through their music and ministries. I do not want anything I am about to write to be misconstrued as an attack on these men and women of God. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Deuce and any of the other artists I will reference in this note or part II. What I am concerned about is why these artist feel compelled to hold Calvinist theology in the first place and the negative effects Calvinist theology can have on those influenced by their music and ministries. Allow me to start with some clarifying thoughts. A Few Clarifying Thoughts: 1) Calvinism is Determinism. Make no mistake about it. And do not be fooled by Calvinist scholars who deny it. Calvinism teaches that God has already foreordained everything that will come to pass presently and in the future. There is no way around it. Many Calvinists will argue either that their particular brand of Calvinism is not as "extreme" as others, or they will argue that Calvinism is not "philosophical determinism." It makes no difference. No matter how you slice it, Calvinism is determinism. Many Calvinists attempt to distance themselves from their own doctrines. They qualify their beliefs heavily, and toss around the word "nuanced" a lot in the hopes that it will magically erase your memory of what they actually believe. Several others attempt a smoke and mirrors trick of saying they aren't "Hyper-Calvinists," who are the 'real determinists.' But this is all a farce. In 10 years of debating (and arguing) with Calvinists, the Calvinists who decry "Hyper-Calvinists" never articulate what it is that distinguishes them from "Biblical Calvinists" and let's them off the hook. Furthermore, in 10 years of debating (and arguing) with Calvinists, I have never heard a coherent explanation given for how God can be said in Calvinism to have ordained everything and yet is not culpable for sin and evil. Calvinists will tell you in the same breath: "God has pre-ordained everything" and "God is not the author of sin or evil." I'm sorry, but my 6 year-old son can spot the logical contradiction in those two statements. 2) Determinism is Not the Theology of the Oppressed. Next, it is important to understand that when you teach that the present world is the direct result of God's ordaining will, you are necessarily teaching that the present world is the way God wants it. However, when you teach that the world at present is the way God wants it, you run aground Copyright, T.C. Moore. 2009.

of the Biblical witness. Scripture is clear that the world at present has traveled far beyond the God's dream for it, and that God's current mission ends in remaking this broken and fallen world after his dream---brand new! When your theology rubber-stamps the present world two things happen. Number one, you communicate affirmation to the strong, the powerful, the wealthy, the people who are "Right." You tell them in point of fact: "You are God's Elect." Simultaneously and secondly, you tell the weak, the marginalized, the oppressed, the hungry, the poor, the alien, the downtrodden (all of the people groups for whom God demands justice) they are unchosen by God---"reprobates." God has elected them to pain, misery, exploitation, and despair. Determinism is great news for those on top of the world. They are reassured of their goodstanding with God. For those on the bottom, they are reassured they are unloved, God's refuse. If the world is the way God wants it now, why did Jesus die? If the world is the way God wants it, why does he desire to remake it? If the world is the way God wants it now, God wants sin, death, and evil. 3) Hip Hop is a Culture Born in Oppression. Yes, it is true that white, suburban teens are the biggest consumers of hip hop music in America. Yes, it is true that white-owned corporations have exploited hip hop, raped it of its essence, and used it to hock anything and everything. Yes, it is even true that hip hop culture has transcended the New York boroughs where it was born and become descriptive of a global culture that is not bound by race or class or age. But, hip hop culture was born out of a need for expression amidst an oppressed people group. Black Americans created hip hop culture in the slums of cities where they were denied equal rights and faced challenges the likes of which white Americans couldn't dream. No matter how big and how powerful hip hop culture grows to become, it can never... never forget where it came from! 4) Calvinism Dominates Conservative Theological Education in the US. If you want to be taken seriously as theologically astute in the US, you have to go to seminary. In the US, there are two kinds of seminaries: Liberal and Conservative. The liberal seminaries have little concern for faith. They are mostly concerned with religion. They also have very little respect for the Scriptures or the living Jesus they reveal. Conservative seminaries are often the only choice for Christians who have a sincere faith in the living Jesus and respect Scripture. Certainly, conservative seminaries are the only choices for artists such as Deuce and the rest of Copyright, T.C. Moore. 2009.

the Cross Movement. (The Ambassador graduated with a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary, a particularly conservative school as conservative seminaries in the US go.) I have personal experience of the strangle-hold Calvinism has on conservative theological education in America. I wanted a theological education that coupled biblical studies with urban ministry. (This is surprisingly rare in the US.) And the Boston campus of Gordon-Conwell has a tremendous program that does just this. When I registered as a student in 2006, I had no idea the grip Calvinism had on this school. In almost every theology class I have had to date, Calvin and his thoughts have been esteemed on par with Scripture itself (if not a little higher.) There is a lipservice tolerance for those who identify more closely with Arminius, but mention you disagree with TULIP and you get the distinct feeling you are a second-class student quickly. In Part II, I will connect the dots and explain why I believe Calvinism in Holy Hip Hop is dangerous and destructive.

Copyright, T.C. Moore. 2009.