Just five years ago, uttering the phrase "Christian hip-hop" in the average evangelical church would have met with blank stares.
All this has changed as artists such as Lecrae and Flame have exploded in popularity—winning awards, selling out shows, and racking up millions of downloads. Young believers have responded enthusiastically to the movement's blend of doxology and pedagogy.
But Christian hip-hop is showing signs of entering a new phase. Call it the "critical phase," one in which artists broaden their program to address cultural issues in evangelicalism or the public square.
In April, Sho Baraka, a rapper and elder at Blueprint Church in Atlanta, released a song entitled "Jim Crow" that uses strong language—including the controversial word nigga.
The song drew a heated response and engaged Christian leaders.
"It's being used in the same way that it was used in Uncle Tom's Cabin," noted Ken Jones, senior pastor of Glendale Missionary Baptist Church and a relative of Propaganda, a spoken-word poet. "Part of the baggage that [the term] will carry is that people are expecting a Sunday school lesson, and they're not necessarily going to get it."
Daniel White Hodge, author of Heaven Has a Ghetto: The Missiological Gospel and Theology of Tupac Amaru Shakur, approves of language that reaches "the general human experience."
"People aren't interested in coming to some crusade, saying a little prayer, and then thinking that their lives are going to be okay," he said. "Christian art tries to answer ultimate questions."
Rapper Trip Lee said he probably would not use the word, but noted that hip-hop ...