Guest / Limited Access /
W.W. Jay-Z?
Photo by Ty Hyten

A high school in Beaver, Pennsylvania, recently went into security lockdown over a rap lyric. Actually, rap here is a stretch. It was the theme song of a 20-year-old sitcom starring Will Smith.

A school official called a student's voicemail and heard the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air song on the student's phone. She mistook "shooting some b-ball outside of the school" as "shooting some people outside of the school," and dialed 9-1-1.

In light of shootings linked to popular media, from The Matrix to The Dark Knight Rises, her fear is understandable. But there's a parable here too. Even in its most commercialized, bubblegum form, hip-hop scares middle-class America. The thumping rhythm and defiant lyrics can conjure up pictures of gang violence, even in songs solely about basketball or love or heartbreak. Smith was right: Parents just don't understand.

The violent edge of rap—"It's just so angry"—is most often what I hear behind American Christians' ambivalence about the new wave of Christian hip-hop. But not all of this ambivalence is reactionary, revealing white-bread taste. It's a real question: Can one authentically rap the Sermon on the Mount, with its Beatitudes, warnings against anger, and meekness? No doubt one can set Matthew 5–7 to rhyme and meter, but would it still be hip-hop? If not, does that rule hip-hop out as legitimate Christian art?

That was the question Ken Myers posed as we talked recently about Christian hip-hop artists Lecrae, Shai Linne, Trip Lee, and others (especially popular among the "young, restless, Reformed" wing of the church). Myers, host of Mars Hill Audio and one of the most respected Christian thinkers ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only Wilson's Bookmarks
From the editor of Books & Culture.
Current IssueWhy Our Body Destroys Itself
Why Our Body Destroys Itself
The science and spirituality behind the latest Nobel Prize in medicine.
Recommended
Subscriber Access Only 325 The First Council of Nicea
At stake in the church's first general council was the simplest, yet most profound, question: Who is Jesus Christ?
TrendingThe Story Behind Trump’s Controversial Prayer Partner
The Story Behind Trump’s Controversial Prayer Partner
What Paula White’s Washington moment implies for the prosperity gospel’s future.
Editor's PickWhy Our Body Destroys Itself
Why Our Body Destroys Itself
The science and spirituality behind the latest Nobel Prize in medicine.
Christianity Today
W.W. Jay-Z?
hide thisMay May

In the Magazine

May 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.