Truth, Style and the Music of Shai Linne

By Stephanie Ismer

I wonder how many times rap music has been condemned from the pulpit. Ironic, isn't it, that Christian rappers like Shai Linne are saying things from the microphone that many preachers these days seem to have forgotten how to proclaim?

Watch this video and listen to Shai Linne passionately extolling the virtues of Christ. Hear the crowds cheering their agreement as he preaches about holiness, examining your life, and the wrath of a Sovereign God. When was the last time you heard anything like this in church?

There are whole books written about how rap music (among other forms) is intrinsically bad, and not a fit vehicle to carry God's truth. There are sermons and seminars galore about how hymns and praise songs are musically superior to other styles for the purpose of worship. I'm not saying there's something wrong with having a preference for certain types of music. But there is a world of dying people out there who need Jesus, and we're busy worrying about whether syncopated beats will corrupt us?

Jesus said it's not what goes into our mouth that defiles us, but what comes out of our hearts (Matthew 15:10-20). I think this applies to our ears as well. Which is more defiled: a man who listens to rap music and proclaims the gospel, or a man who listens to hymns and judges his brother?

I love this quote from Shai Linne's website:
I don't mean for this to sound harsh or overly critical, but have any of you noticed that the vast majority of music that would fall into the category of "Christian" is not actually about God Himself? I think this is particularly the case with Christian Hip-hop, but it can be seen in other genres as well. How can I say this? Well, most of the music I hear is more about US and our response to God, but not God Himself. Don't get me wrong. There's a place for music that deals with our response to God, but when that is the overwhelming majority of the music, we slowly begin to distort the truth about who the God is that we're supposedly responding to… Our culture is extremely narcissistic and man-centered, and it seems that much of Christian music has followed suit. The Bible, however, is radically God-centered, and I believe that a radically God-centered worldview should be reflected in the songs we write. Because of our man-centered tendencies, the songs we sing about God usually deal with the things we like about Him (which are usually the things that directly benefit us the most), such as His love, mercy and forgiveness, etc. These things are glorious and we should write songs about them. However, if that's all we talk about, we create an incomplete and deficient view of God, which is not in line with His self-revelation.
Linne hits the nail on the head here. The issue of musical style is a distraction from the real issue, which is the shamefully man-centered content of the music we're producing. We can't blame this on musical style either — everybody's guilty of it. Whether we prefer praise songs, hip-hop, folk music, hymns, or rap, most times we're listening to that music because it's "our style" and fits our image, or it's "family-friendly" and makes us feel comfortable in our suburban existance, or it's what all our friends are listening to. But how many times do we choose music simply because our hearts are responding to the truth about God contained in its lyrics — regardless of style?

Rap music is about as far from my style as it could be. Shai Linne and I are about as different as we could be. But to the degree that we (and our music) are all about Christ, and dedicated to faithfully and beautifully expressing the truth about Him, we will have the closest kind of unity and fellowship. This is what makes the church so awesome — it's full of people who are profoundly different, rejoicing together in the creative beauty of God. When it's about Him, and not about us, our differences don't matter.

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Published 8-15-11; Revised on 2-25-16