Monthly Archives: September 2014

Lecrae, Tim Lambesis, & Christian Music

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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.

SDG

The Generation That Won’t Impeach

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “impeach”? For me, I think of Clinton and Lewinsky or Nixon and Watergate, but that’s about it. Without going to Google/Wikipedia, do you know what impeachable offenses are for elected officials? I certainly didn’t, and that’s part of what I’m getting at, even if it’s not the whole. There will likely always be people who are in politics (truism much?), and therefore know the ins and outs of impeachable offenses. However, to an extent, the American system of government is “accountable to the people”, and public opinion can do certain things. This is largely the area I want to focus on, both because it is more of my interest, and also because technically political material is beyond me.

It would be very easy to point to Obama’s administration, and how this or that issue should have been an impeachable offense, but the fact of the matter is, there is more at play than simply Obama. Granted, in the case of the presidency, there is always influence on future presidents. Particularly if one president is able to get away with something his predecessors might not have been able to. But what’s the point of all this? Why do I think my generation (I’m currently 26) won’t impeach anyone? Well, let’s start by listing a few things we think:

    • All politicians are corrupt
    • The political system is broken
    • All truth is relative

These are just a few things that play into why I don’t think my generation will impeach someone. First of all, I think an elected official would have to do something so incredibly outlandish and evil (don’t ask about the definition of evil) that it would rise above our general apathy and cynicism toward the political machine. We naturally assume that since the system is broken, and that politicians are corrupt, then therefore they are going to do bad stuff all the time. We pretend to care and know what we’re talking about around election time, but the rest of the year we will be more surprised when they do a number of really nice/good things (why do you think Pope Francis is so popular?).

So someone will have to do really bad things, and they will have to do them with enough regularity that people will remember to care about them. It’s easy to quickly get a bunch of moral outrage behind something, but it’s incredibly difficult to get that same response a few weeks after the fact.

Then we have the problem of moral relativism. It’s particularly difficult for my generation to claim moral high ground on many things, excepting the people who don’t hold to our definition of tolerance and relative truth, of course. I say this is a problem because while it would be somewhat easier to get people upset about something, it is quite another to get them to the point of doing something about it. Punitive action is saying that some rule has been broken, and there deserves to be a punishment for it. This sort of flies in the face of the “tolerance” bumper stickers, because it’s saying that there is some sort of objective rules which need to be followed. We don’t like thinking about objective morality or rules which are binding, regardless of if you disagree with them or not. This might naturally lead into all sorts of sticky areas like the definition and nature of rights, freedom, and how we are to continue to function in a society with them. These sorts of questions are ones that my generation tends to avoid like the plague.

These are some of the issues that would need to be surmounted in order for my generation to actually impeach someone. With ISIS, we are starting to see exactly what sorts of things need to be done to shock my generation out of its slumber. I sincerely hope we take the hint, and not just roll over and hit the snooze button.

As Christians, this is the task we face whenever something happens and we are called upon to respond to it. To borrow a phrases from Al Mohler and Francis Schaeffer, we need to be able to rest on the strength of full Christian conviction, informed by a Biblical worldview, and offer real answers and real hope to a generation which has none.

SDG

The Straw Man

You remember the movie Wizard of Oz? The classic film has been analyzed to death, and there are a ton of theories about it. I won’t be addressing any of those, nor positing my own, but I would like to talk about one character. Each of the companions Dorothy meets in her journey to the magical land of Oz is lacking one thing, which they will all travel to the Wizard together to acquire. The Straw Man is in need of a brain, and while I don’t know if this was an intentional correlation or not, there is an informal fallacy in logic called the straw man fallacy.

This particular way of arguing or reasoning rears its ugly head in all sorts of circumstances, and is surprisingly easy to commit. When dealing with other people, we have to realize that they have a different view point from ours, and from the groups they affiliate with. This may seem like an obvious point, but perhaps it’s so obvious that it is easily missed.

Communication scholar Tim Muehlhoff talks about how it is important that we create a “thick” view of people, instead of a “thin” one. You can only accomplish this by taking time to figure out some important things:

    • What does this person believe?
    • Why does this person believe this?
    • Where do we agree?
    • Based on all I’ve learned, how should I proceed?

This applies even if the person you’re talking to claims to belong to a particular group, or believe a particular thing that you’ve heard, read, or studied before. Interestingly enough, in one way, the more you study something, the easier it becomes to straw man a person. I’m here making a distinction between every day communication and academic communication. If you are writing an essay on classical Islam, then the more you read and study, the less likely you will be to straw man classical Islam. However, if you are talking to someone who calls themselves a Muslim, and has lived in America their whole life, they may not believe things that are consistent with classical Islam. Therefore, if you proceed based on your study of Islam, you will end up creating a straw man of that person’s beliefs, even if that means they are theologically/philosophically inconsistent with their claimed worldview.

In other words, you need to figure out what exactly each person believes, and argue against that, and not whatever you suppose they believe. As an intellectually-oriented guy, that is a hard lesson to learn. I strive to be consistent to the Christian worldview that I espouse, and so I have a tendency toward thinking that everyone does the same in an academic sense.

Whether you come from the perspective of the academic “I’ve studied that, so you must believe X” or from the layman “I’ve heard that somewhere, or talked to someone who believed that, and so you must believe X” you must guard against using a straw man in your discussions. While all people have worldviews, backgrounds, time periods, and cultures that they come from that color what they think/believe, it is important to find out specifically what each person believes, in each situation. There is nothing wrong with have a store of background information in which you can say things about categories of belief, but while it may inform your discussions, it should never dominate them.

Each person is an unrepeatable soul, created in the image of God, and part of evangelism is loving people enough to find out what they believe. May God help us as we seek to share His truth in a lost and confused world.

SDG

Post-New Atheist Atheists

There have been Atheists as long as there have been Theists, and like every worldview movement, there has been a number of changes and disagreements along the way. You have the oft-quoted Euthyphro Dilemma dating back to 399 BC, through David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, all the way up to the New Atheists.

The New Atheists are people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, the late Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger, Jerry Coyne and others. The term “New Atheist” is a controversial one, in terms of sociological classification, but I think in terms of the everyday person, it’s a helpful term for identifying them. They came out of the gate with all guns blazing, raging against religion, particularly Christianity, and got to the tops of the best-seller lists for their efforts. They mocked God, berated Christians, and did a lot to raise awareness about how it was ok to be an Atheist, even in a “Christian” nation like America.

However, after 5 or 6 years, the postmodern (metamodern?) masses got tired of them. They realized that they were basically the opposite side of the coin to the religious fundamentalists that they were against in the first place. The postmodern people didn’t like “radical” religionists or fundamentalists, not so much because of their religion, but because of their radicalism. So when people started realizing that the New Atheists were radical atheists, they stopped listening to them as well; not so much for their Atheism, but for their radicalism. What came after that realization was a new brand of Atheists that is a bit difficult to classify.

Do we call them the New New Atheists, Post-New Atheists, or what? Well, there’s a number of different ways of classifying them (1, 2, 3), and with all worldviews, there are different varieties coexisting (see what I did there?) at the same time. The point of this post, though, is to focus on what the third article refers to as the Seeker-Agnostic, or the Ritual Atheist. I would say that the term “Seeker-Agnostic” is a bit misleading, as it would make me think that this person is actively searching out an answer, whereas their definition makes it seem like they are a straightforward Agnostic, but I could simply be mistaken.

I would usually put the idea of a “seeker” in the category of the Ritual Atheist, because it implies (to me, anyway) a sense of looking for answers. According to the article, this group is composed of people who don’t necessarily believe in God, but who don’t wholly discount religion, either. They may have respect for the “profound symbolism” in religion, or think there is something to certain ceremonies and practices. In my experience, these individuals are Atheistic toward particular gods (specifically the God of Christianity), but not necessarily of other metaphysical ideas or entities like fate, karma, ghosts, or even astrology. I think there are certainly more of these type of Atheists than there are of the New Atheist stripe, at least as far as my interactions with people have been.

One result of this new push toward a “religious atheism” , if you will, is the creation of the “Atheist Church” in London, and then around the world. Perhaps someone realized that the “bare bones” Atheism simply wasn’t working, or could be/needed to be augmented. One wonders why that would be the case, but whatever the reasons may be, I find it interesting that the group has already experienced a schism. The article claims that one group wanted to move toward a more “Unitarian Church” style structure, instead of a more straightforward Atheism. As a Christian, I would say that all men suppress the truth in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18) , and that all men have the law written on their hearts (Romans 2:14-15). It certainly seems like the actions of the Ritual Atheists do lean them in that direction, and I think that is a fantastic opportunity for Christians, in general.

Here is a group of people that is less antagonistic toward your opinion than their predecessors, and so while they might not debate as much, they may be more open to checking out one of your events. For most people, that is good news, as heated debate is usually not what they want. However, while they may not be vocally opposed to Christianity, they are still Atheistic for a reason. They are likely still reacting against the cultural Christianity that they have grown up surrounded by, and so presenting them with nothing but the same version of cultural Christianity that they have reacted to is not likely to be effective.

This is where we need to show Christianity as an entire worldview. Many of the early apologists and theologians wrote about how Christianity was good for society/humanity, and that may be a practice that we would do well to revive. The New Atheists did a lot of damage to the public perception of Christianity, and if nothing else, that deserves to be countered; but I think it would also serve our apologetic and evangelistic efforts as well. In other words, we need to offer these people something meaty. It doesn’t have to be super-philosophical (some people aren’t wired that way anyway), or use big, theological words. It does have to be more than simply what they have heard in the past. Jesus is Lord over all of life, and Christianity is a religion that speaks to all of life. Offer them that. A robust, all-encompassing relationship with Christ that struggles with and answers the big questions of life, and is a source of both true truth and real hope in a world without answers or hope.

SDG