Christian music is an interesting thing, and lots of controversy unfortunately comes out of it. The two guys pictured above represent two of the more controversial genres (hip-hop/rap and metal), and so they tend to be more scandalous in the eyes of people, regardless of any other factors. I happen to thoroughly enjoy both of these genres, so I’ve been following these guys for years.
Recently, there has been a good amount of controversy surrounding these two individuals, and I just want to touch on that, and relate it to Scripture. First, we have the controversy surrounding Tim Lambesis, the former front man of the metal band As I Lay Dying. I say former, because Tim got arrested for trying to hire a hit man to murder his estranged wife. This would be a pretty crazy situation by itself, but it was intensified because As I Lay Dying was associated with Christianity. They were known as a Christian metal band, and obviously that is the sort of sinful behavior that should not be associated with Christians.
In a rather lengthy interview, Tim talked about his self-destruction, and how their band really wasn’t Christian at all, but while they may have started that way, they were now just doing the “christian thing” to have jobs and make money. The entire story was quite shocking, to the secular and Christian worlds alike. The obvious question was, how did we miss it? I think part of it is the fact that most only pay attention to the music, and since As I Lay Dying preferred to have their lyrics have implicit Christianity, it was easier to miss. They were a band that preferred to be called “Christians in a band” instead of a “Christian band”. This is an extremely common sentiment among bands, and while there is nothing wrong with the statement as such, it is interesting that bands/artists make this statement commonly only after they have some sort of change in lyrics.
For As I Lay Dying, they have always chosen to take the “implicit Christianity” route with their music, even back when they were actually Christians, they still preferred to be as Christians in a band instead of a Christian band. The reason many artists say this is because there is a stigma that comes with being a Christian artist. The idea is that you have to be talking about God constantly. Back in the day, when the church was afraid (well, more afraid) of rock music, in order to be a christian band, some people said every song had to have so many JPMs (Jesus per minute) in order to “count”. So this sort of stigma doesn’t come from nowhere, but is the designation a helpful one? I think it depends on more than just the music. For example, here are some lyrics from the song “The Darkest Nights”
For so long I have felt alone
Content to live with unrest
Longing faded into countless nights
That buried my weary heart
But You brought an end
To this dead hour
And meaning to a calloused life
Held in Your arms
So it seems pretty clear what he’s talking about, but it would appear that his life did not match up with his music. So while the “implicit Christianity” thing wasn’t the problem, it did contribute to the more camouflage nature of his change. So we’ve looked a little bit at the controversy surrounding Tim Lambesis, and how implicit Christianity functioned within the As I Lay Dying paradigm, but what about Lecrae?
The controversy surrounding Lecrae is not nearly as scandalous as the one surrounding Tim Lambesis, and the reason for this is because while Tim’s life did not match up even to the implicit Christianity of AILD, Lecrae’s life very much matches up with Christianity. The reason there is controversy with Lecrae is because he has moved from an explicit Christianity to an implicit one. Compare the songs “Go Hard” and “Confe$$ions”. The former would be an example of lyrics that would fall under the “explicit Christianity” category, whereas the latter would be in the “implicit Christianity” category. Comparatively, Lecrae’s implicit lyrics are more explicit than the implicit lyrics from AILD, but they are certainly more implicit than his earlier stuff. Media and certain Christian circles went ablaze with questions on whether or not Lecrae had sold out, and with his success, he had walked away from Christianity.
Personally, I think the reactions were way overblown. However, I think it’s ok to say that there has been a shift in Lecrae’s music, and doing so doesn’t make you a “hater”. He actually made a song called “rebel vs. gravity” to address the controversy, and I think there are some things to be said about the song. In the song, he (as Mr. Gravity) says that he did change, but it was never for the change (money), and that he matured. Later on, he talks about how he isn’t as self-righteous as he was before, and that while he still believes everything he wrote on the “Rebel” album, he points out that bragging about mission trips or people he’s discipled on every song doesn’t make him more holy (true) and not doing it doesn’t make him less holy (true). However, the question then becomes “were you self-righteous and bragging on your earlier albums?” or was it simply that you felt the conviction/need to be more explicit? Unfortunately, we don’t know the heart of people, and from what listeners could ascertain from the lyrics, it seemed simply that he was “bringing the truth hard, hoping that it gets through” as Mr. Rebel says. If he was bragging and being self-righteous, he managed to do it in a way that nobody noticed. In this way, perhaps even “explicit Christianity” can be a camouflage.
Perhaps the song dispels the controversy, and it is adequately addressed. Though actually, I think the song brings up more questions than it answers. How was he being self-righteous before? If he is no longer being so, how can we tell? He says that he doesn’t want to turn every song into a sermon. Why not? I’ve read in various articles that he feels like he’s taking Francis Schaeffer’s advice, and is influencing culture by being good at his craft. While it is true that Schaeffer talked about the need for Christians to be, say, good artists or musicians while also being Christians, I think it may be unfair to cite him in this particular instance. The reason I say that is because it’s not exactly the same issue that Schaeffer was addressing. The worry isn’t that Lecrae is a good rapper in the eyes of the world and has implicit Christian lyrics, but rather, that there was a change from explicit to implicit. Personally, I would be interested in hearing a more full explanation of this. Maybe it’s out there somewhere and I’m unfamiliar with it, but as far as I know this song is the only thing that addresses it.
When I started writing this, a few texts from Scripture came to mind. One of them is the parable of the two sons, which is found in Matthew 21:28-32:.
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
While this is not an exactly similar situation, I have to wonder what we prefer as listeners to Christian music. On the one hand, we have a guy who came out with explicitly Christian lyrics, and then later slowly changed to a more implicitly Christian approach. On the other hand we have a band that came out with implicitly Christian lyrics, and later self-destructed, revealing that they were faking Christianity in order to get money. I think putting the two side-by-side makes the reaction to Lecrae look pretty silly, and rightly so. The appropriate response would be to ask him some questions about he views his ministry and where he feels that God is leading him. Instead, Christians came out of the woodwork, looking to throw him under the bus. I think there are some questions which deserve answers, but they need to be done in a respectful way.
The other Scripture passage that comes to mind is one where (I can’t find it to reference) Paul is in prison, and he talks about how there’s an enemy of his who is out preaching Christ in order to try and take some of the fame away from Paul and for himself. Interestingly, Paul’s response is that he’s grateful for what the man’s doing because even though he is doing it from an evil heart, the truth of the gospel is still being preached. That’s sort of how I feel about the As I Lay Dying ordeal. They may have been lying about what they believed for unjust gain, but they were saying true things.
Ultimately, I think we need to take some advice from Lecrae, who says that we need to be learning from our pastors, and not necessarily from musicians. This isn’t to say that we can’t learn things from musicians, but when it comes to theology, we need to get that from the proper place. We need to go to Scripture, and then to our pastors, to get our understanding of Christianity. There is certainly a place for a critique of musicians, but we need to do that from a place of respect and kindness, always looking to Scripture as our guide and foundation.